The idea for “The Clam Shack” had been on the back of their minds for years, but it took a pandemic for the Garden Catering take-out seafood stand to become a reality.
Frank and Tina Carpenteri run a brisk business at Garden Catering on Sound Beach Avenue, pandemic notwithstanding, but they were surprised by the instant success of their pop-up “Clam Shack,” which had its soft opening last Thursday.
“Last Thursday we had a soft opening and sold out of product for the entire weekend in three hours,” Tina said, adding that all it took was some social media posts and word-of-mouth. “What people went crazy for were the hot Connecticut lobster rolls.”
Of course Garden Catering makes delicious take-out food look easy, but time was taken to perfect several recipes before they moved on to construct their brick-and-mortar “shack.”
The menu includes two varieties of lobster roll: the cold Maine style lobster roll with mayo; and the hot, Connecticut style lobster roll, which features fresh lobster meat and clarified butter on a toasted Martin’s famous split top hot dog bun, which Frank said is sturdy and holds up well to the lobster meat.
Another option is the clam strip roll with house made tartar sauce.
And, for shrimp lovers, The Clam Shack offers a New England shrimp roll, which is like a shrimp salad. It is made with whole shrimp and mayonnaise, and is served on a toasted bun.
The Shrimp Po Boy features fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato and house made Cajun remoulade, which Frank said has a kick to it. It is served on a French baguette, cut into thirds and toasted. It features a dozen shrimp, so it is a good sized sandwich.
“You get that Po Boy and a cold beer and there’s nothing like it,” Frank said, adding that local customers are nostalgic for the days they could get fried clams at Howard Johnson’s, or seafood at The Showboat or the Clam Box.
“It’s a throwback for a lot of people,” he said. “And we’re right on the way to the water.”
“We have a couple secret ingredients we put in the batter for the clams that give it a little bit of a kick at the end,” Frank added. “And fresh squeezed lemon ties it all together.”
Then there was the task of creating a logo.
“Jaime Jones worked on The Clam Shack design with us,” Frank said. “She is a wonderful person and a wonderful artist.”
Jones hand painted the A-frame menu and the shack itself.
“She also helped design our painted mural inside our Fairfield and New Haven locations, which is where we first met her.”
“People are so excited, and excited for us as a company, and us as a town,” Tina said. “Someone said, ‘You’re really stepping up the game in Old Greenwich.’ We like to do something new and innovative, and a lot of people are doing that now with Covid impacting businesses differently.”
Frank said one Clam Shack customer was skipping their annual family trip to Nantucket. “She said, ‘We’re bringing Nantucket here this summer.'”
Tina agreed. “It’s about experiences. When you take a lobster roll and go to the beach, it’s more than just going to the beach or bringing it back to your house.”
Frank and Tina say their inspiration for The Clam Shack came from long time Garden Catering owner, Frank Carpenteri Senior.
“My father owned Main Street Seafood on Main Street in Port Chester back in the 1980’s, and we grew up doing our homework in the back room of the restaurant,” Frank Jr recalled. “We learned how to eat raw clams right off the half-shell at a very young age.”
Frank and Tina said they’re looking forward to a visit from Frank Senior next Thursday from 3:00-7:00pm.
“He’s actually going to be on site shucking clams on the half shell,” Frank Jr said. “We’re going to call it ‘The 2 buck shuck.'”
The Carpenteris said they hope to keep their pop-up Clam Shack open until the end of September.
Follow @theclamshackatgc and see more stories and more photos of what’s on the menu.