We arrived early Saturday evening, at about 5:30, and I guess we beat the real crowds because although there were plenty of people coming and going constantly at Howard’s and all of their picnic benches were occupied, we did not wait in line very long before placing our order.
Now we are/were pretty regular customers of the Clam Box (a little way up Route 9 East in Brookfield), having eaten there several times during the course of each summer since moving to Leicester almost five years ago. Our last visit there was a mere week ago and we had a few glitches during that visit, so, after reading many wonderful things about Howard’s, we figured we’d give them a try and compare them to our usual haunt.
We had a hankering for clam fritters and chowder ever since recently seeing an episode of Phantom Gourmet that featured New England clam shacks. So, here we were there to pit Howard’s against the Clam Box. The both of us ordered Meal Deals consisting of a small order of clam fritters (6), New England clam chowder (12 oz.), a small order of onion rings (you have a choice of fries or onion rings), and a medium beverage for the bargain price of $8.95 ---you can’t beat that with a stick! (Clam Box also has a similarly priced meal deal with fritters and chowder, but it does not include fries/onion rings or a beverage). It was a good thing we set out knowing exactly what we wanted because Howard’s menu is so extensive. We would have liked to have sampled other things as well, but we knew we wouldn’t be able to stretch our stomachs enough to accommodate them (we also had it in our heads to try their ice cream, something we’ve never done at the Clam Box, always being too full after eating our dinners). Comparing the two establishments, we’ve got to say that the clam fritters at each are very similar and very good. The chowder, however, is a different story. We tried the Clam Box’s clam chowder only once when we first started going there, and have never ordered it since because it was very thin and contained mostly potatoes, very little clams, and was pretty bland. Not so at Howard’s. Their chowder is thick and creamy, and has a high ratio of fresh clams to potato chunks. The styrofoam bowl they serve it in is also larger than Clam Box’s (12 oz. vs. 8 oz.). We discarded the packets of oyster crackers that came with the chowder and chose instead to dip our fritters in the creamy concoction. The only way it could have been better is if they also had the choice of Rhode Island-style chowder (we remember fondly our summer trips to the long-defunct Rocky Point in Warwick, RI for clam “cakes,” Rhode Island chowder and shore dinners---those were the days!). We also found the onion rings to be comparable to those we’ve had at Clam Box---thinly sliced with a light and crispy batter---delicious! While perusing the large menu signs on the front of the building near the take-out windows, we noticed that Howard’s prices, were, for the most part, lower (sometimes $5-$6) than the Clam Box’s. A definite plus!
Once we got our food, we scouted the two areas on the grounds with picnic tables and found that all were occupied. However, at one table sat a couple nice enough to wave us over to join them as the table was big enough to seat six adults comfortably, and they were nearing the end of their meals. After a few short minutes sitting with them, they got up to get ice cream (most, we read, do so at Howard’s) and informed us they were not coming back. They did, however, return to our table after getting their treats to prove to us just how enormous the ice cream portions at Howard’s are. Wow! Yet another bargain! Seconds after the couple departed again, two gentlemen toting Fisherman’s Platters---OMG! What gigantic mounds of delicious-looking fried goodies!---approached us to see if they could share our table. Of course, we told them to sit down and we all had some good conversation throughout out dinner, although most of it was foodie talk. We couldn’t believe it when both men, totally stuffed, left on their plates almost a third of the gigantic mound (and these were big guys). You’d better opt for the JUNIOR Fisherman’s Platter next time, guys!
Fritters, chowder and onion rings consumed, we decided to check out the ice cream options (and there are MANY). We decided to share the 4 Scoop Sampler (pick four from the menu for $5---another huge bargain!). We chose three of our favorites, the fourth being a flavor we’ve never had before: Milky Way, and boy did it taste like the popular candy bar. Fabulous! The other three flavors (coffee, butter pecan and pistachio) were also very good, but the Milky Way was the real standout. All were extremely smooth and silky on the tongue. All the scoops were very large, more like a scoop and a half each. I tasted a couple of spoonsful of each, but I was too full to push more than that. Sister dear, a true ice cream aficionado, took the Woman vs. Food challenge and polished that monster off!
I must mention that although we spent the majority of the time at Howard’s sitting at that picnic table in a very woody area, not once were we bothered by any type of insect. Now that’s strange! I wonder if they do something to make it like that. I’m sure all the customers appreciate it, we sure did.
In sum, we really liked Howard’s Drive-In. The food was very good (and at bargain prices), they have an extensive menu, and the service by the young girls behind the counter was courteous, friendly, quick and efficient. I can’t think of anything negative to say other than that they could have a bit more seating for their customers. For us, the drive from Leicester to Howard’s is about 25 minutes, a seemingly endless drive when you’ve got your mind on a fresh seafood meal, and is about 3-4 miles further down Route 9 than the Clam Box. To us, it is totally worth it, especially in the nice weather. Too bad they are open only seasonally from the first weekend in April through mid-October, unlike the Clam Box, which is open year ‘round (indoor seating). We hope to return to Howard’s for their lobster roll or perhaps their fried whole belly clams or fried sea scallops before they close for the season. I know, for certain, that we will be back next summer.
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