Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Rocky Point Shore Dinner Hall

Blame it on the cold weather, but all day my thoughts kept returning to memories of eating clam cakes and red chowder in the Shore Dinner Hall at Rocky Point Park. Located on Narragansett Bay in Warwick, Rhode Island, the park opened in 1847 and closed in 1996. The Shore Dinner Hall served its last clam cake in 2000. (Check out the film “You Must Be This Tall” for more on the history of Rocky Point Park.)

Apparently my grandfather, a labor reporter for the Providence Journal-Bulletin, was quite the shore-dinner connoisseur. He used to take my dad to Rocky Point for clam cakes and chowder and Dad, in turn, took me and my brother. This usually occurred around the Fourth of July, when my father's childhood and college friends, with their children and spouses, annually reunited in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

I must have inherited this penchant for the shore dinner, as I remember the Rocky Point Shore Dinner Hall with its seemingly endless rows of tables, watermelon, and salty, battered clam cakes better than I do the Corkscrew or the Freefall or the House of Horrors (well, my eyes were probably unnecessarily closed for much of that last one).

Around 1989 or so I picked up the above postcard of the Shore Dinner Hall, complete with a description of the menu on its backside:

With the park and the dinner hall long gone, I will have to make “Famous Rocky Point Clam Chowder” for myself.


1/2 pound ground or finely diced salt pork
1 pound onions, cut in medium dice
1 gallon clam juice
1 pound potatoes, diced
Salt, pepper to taste
1 tablespoon paprika
2 cups canned tomato puree
1 1/2 quarts chopped quahogs
Water as needed
Pilot crackers, crumbled

Heat salt pork until the fat melts. Add onions; cook over gentle heat until very soft. Add clam juice, potatoes, seasonings, tomato puree and a little water.

Simmer until potatoes are soft, then add quahogs. Heat and taste for seasoning. Add water if needed.

It is best to use old, not new potatoes, because they thicken the chowder somewhat with their starch. Crush some pilot crackers and stir them into the chowder to thicken it further near the end of cooking. Makes 20 eight-ounce servings.

Note that the above recipe, located with others in a 1997 Providence Journal-Bulletin article, suggests that you make the chowder with pilot crackers. But like Famous Rocky Point Clam Chowder that, too, is a bygone food unless you make it yourself. (Nabisco discontinued Crown Pilot Crackers despite a concerted effort against this move by residents of Chebeague Island, Maine. But that’s another story.)