Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Get in Ma Mouth: Sapelo Island Clams Edition

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Sapelo Island clams at Holeman & Finch

What a joy to sit down at a bar, get a lovely and complex cocktail, and then a single dish that just makes you sigh and say, "dear God, that's good." Such was the case the other night when I stopped by Holeman & Finch. They had posted on Facebook about their Sapelo Island clams, and I had an hour to kill before picking someone up nearby. I sat down at the one seat open at the crowded bar, and asked barkeep Jason which cocktail might go best with the clams. He deliberated for a minute, then suggested one called Breaking Bread that used gin, dry Oloroso Sherry, and amaro to a wonderfully rich and herbal effect. The clams arrived shortly after, and I realized that the cocktail pairing worked not only in taste, but also in name - a thick slice of crusty toasted bread was a key element of the dish. Serendipity?

The last bits of sopping up
  • The last bits of sopping up
When my bowl of clams hit the bar, my neighbors' heads instinctively turned, drawn by the fragrant hints of the Georgia coast. Sapelo Island clams are a Georgia treasure, plump and pleasantly salty, and definitively on the tender side (when cooked properly) relative to most clams. They hail from the waters around Sapelo Island, of course, which is one the barrier islands between Savannah and Brunswick. Sapelo Island clams are harvested by hand year-round, and, while they're not quite rare, spotting Sapelos on a menu is unusual enough that it always warrants consideration.

Holeman & Finch bathed these beauties in a cream and chicken stock broth spiked with Old Overholt rye, with bits of house-made bacon and thin slivers of jalapeno adding alternating bursts of meaty smoke and assertively sharp spice. The broth was actually not too far from a really good, thin clam chowder, and it was the combination of the clams and broth spooned over the crunchy bread that set off the fireworks. The insanely good slice of pain au levain, from H&F Bread Co., of course, hit all the right notes - well buttered, crusty edges, and a dense but light interior pocked with airy holes (airy holes? I know it's redundant, and sounds strange when you say it, but just saying "holes" doesn't capture the benefit of those holes!). It was perfect bread for sopping things up, and the clam-filled broth was highly sop-it-up worthy.

One pile of clams, one piece of good bread. For $12, it's a bowl (and a slice) of Georgia happiness. My neighbor at the bar took in the wafting aromas left by the clams, lamenting that he was only having a cocktail in advance of dinner somewhere else. I let him know that that didn't stop me, and I headed off to my next appointment, a good bit more sated than I had been an hour earlier.

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