It was a sad day in the dining world when the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant and Lounge in Bangor announced they were closing. While this may seem a small and unimportant blip on the restaurant scene, for those of a certain vintage, this is the death of a cherished era of American style dining. An era when a meal in a restaurant was a civilized dining experience; complete with leather banquettes and linen napkins, fried clams, root beer floats, and hot fudge sundaes.
The late Bill Zoidis, whose family founded and operated Pilot’s Grill, always credited the trained chef with a tall white hat in every kitchen as the secret to HoJo’s success. “We modeled Pilot’s Grill after that” he said, “high quality food with a soda fountain and a good bar.”
Indeed, I recall frosty martinis served with an olive and a sidecar before dining on well-marbled steaks, Lobster Done Easy or Baked Stuffed Clams. The “Grill” as multiple -generations of patrons fondly called it, was a Bangor institution from 1940 until Bill retired in 2002.
The recipe for Deviled Clams celebrates this almost-forgotten era of dining. Chopped clams are combined with cracker crumbs (Ritz are the best), celery, onion and green pepper. The mixture is stuffed into clamshells or casseroles, dotted with butter and baked until fragrant and golden.
This is perfect party fare. Prepare the casseroles in the morning and refrigerate. When guests arrive, slip the Deviled Clams in the oven, mix up a pitcher of martinis and enjoy.
- 2 cups shucked clams and liquor
- 1 tablespoons ½chopped scallion
- 1 tablespoons ½chopped pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped celery
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¾ cup cracker crumbs
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon grainy mustard
- Pinch of red pepper
- Sea salt and fresh pepper as needed
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter 6 individual casseroles or large clamshells. Drain the clams, reserving the juice. Chop the clams fine and add the clams and juice to a medium bowl. In a sauté pan, melt the butter. Add the chopped celery, pepper and scallion. Cook until tender. Cool, and add to the clams. Stir in the cracker crumbs, add the seasonings and stir in the egg. Portion into individual casseroles or large clamshells. Bake until golden and set, about 15 minutes.