By JIM WILLIS
When you name your restaurant the Chowda House, as Mary and Roy Jennings did when they opened the doors of their Red Bank seafood place earlier this year, it doesn’t matter how good anything else on the menu is: your clam chowder better be a cut above the usual out-of-can fare you’re likely to find at other restaurants.
PieHole checked in with the the Bridge Avenue eatery’s chef Glenn Kovacs to see what’s behind a decent made-from-scratch chowder, and to ask the obvious question: red or white?
Kovacs makes a New England chowder – the “white” chowder – and a tomato-based Manhattan chowder (red) almost daily.
“Both have an exhorbinant amount of clams,” says Kovacs. “A lot of times you get chowders, or what people will call a chowder, that don’t really have nearly enough clams in them.”
Kovacs says the New England style outsells its red counterpart almost 3 to 1.
“People are really digging the New England chowder,” says Kovacs. “[Customers] getting on and off the train come in and buy quarts of it.”
While the Manhattan isn’t as a big a seller as the New England, it’s Kovac’s preferred chowda.
“I probably should keep that to myself, but I think there’s a lot more going on with the Manhattan,” he says. “I think it is more complex, it’s got more herbs in it and a good mix of vegetables in it.”
“I can see why people like the New England though. It’s very rich, very comforting and people a really dig that.”
Kovacs says the key to a good chowder is all in the consistency and texture. You don’t want a spoon to stand straight up in the bowl. “It’s got to be just thick enough to be perfect,” he says.
For those who don’t eat fish, Kovacs also makes a “Land Lubber” chowder that changes daily. “We’ll do a gumbo or a carrot-ginger soup or a tomato bisque,” he says.
PieHole ordered up a quart of the Manhattan for take-out. Here, Kovacs really takes advantage of his from-scratch cooking, making sure the dice size of the vegetables is just the right proportion to the clams — a small thing for sure, but it allows the herbs, vegetables and clams to come together but still retain each’s distinct flavor.
Kovacs also insisted we try a cup of the New England, too. Frankly, we’re glad he did. After years of too many clam chowders made from milk thickened with starch, we’d forgotten just how good a homemade chowder of clams in a base made from roux and heavy cream can be. The consistency was perfect and the clams – a larger chop here than the Manhattan’s dice – really stand out here.
As with the Manhattan, Kovacs takes a few fresh, simple ingredients, doesn’t let the flavors to get too muddled, and shows why from-scratch beats the hell out of soup from a can anytime. In both cases he makes sure the place lives up to its name.
Chowda House has its soups priced from $2.95 for a cup, $4.95 for a bowl and $9.50 for a quart.
78 Bridge Ave, Red Bank, NJ 07701