The history of the Cleveland clambake

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Cleveland area clambakes are as much a fall tradition as haunted houses, carving pumpkins and watching Browns quarterbacks spin the turnstile.

By Niko Moulagianis, Niko's Bar & Gyros

When you want fresh lobster, go to Maine. Gulf Coast shrimp are a favorite in New Orleans.

And clams?

Cleveland, of course.

Yes, there are clams in Lake Erie, but not the kind you can eat. Yet Cleveland area clambakes are as much a fall tradition as haunted houses, carving pumpkins and watching Browns quarterbacks spin the turnstile.

An article on Wikipedia claims that clambakes are more popular in Northeast Ohio than any other region of the United States outside of New England. No proof of that claim is cited, but in a recent interview with a local newspaper, the largest clam producer on the East Coast confirmed that Cleveland is his largest market for clams in the fall—topping even Boston.

Many people suggest that Cleveland’s craving for clams comes from our New England heritage. Northeast Ohio—Connecticut’s Western Reserve—was developed mainly by New Englanders who came out “west” to settle in the wilderness.

Unlike local pot-based bakes, traditional clambakes in New England were typically done in a pit. Native tribes, who may have passed their clambake tradition to the Pilgrims, didn’t have huge pots, so they created pits in the beach or in other locations. The traditional New England clambake often includes lobster, as well as beef as an option to chicken—a Cleveland staple.

Niko’s Bar & Gyros keeps the New England tradition alive. Saturday clambakes, offered during October, include a 1 ¼ pound lobster, a dozen clams, corn on the cob and a sweet potato with maple honey butter—all for $34. If you prefer, you can have chicken instead of lobster for $25. An extra dozen clams costs $10. 

Niko's Bar & Gyro is located at 12766 Royalton Road in North Royalton. The phone number is 440-237-6456. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-noon; Sunday, noon-9 p.m. Visit the website at NikosBarAndGyros.com and find them on Facebook at Niko's Bar & Gyros.

Categories: Westside Food