I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Cedar Key – a tiny, charming island in the Big Bend area of Florida – for the sole purpose of learning about its dining scene, specifically, its famous clams.
I was lucky enough to sample several dishes featuring Cedar Key clams (often, the clams had been caught just that day or the day before) at a handful of stellar restaurants on the key.
I have room to write about only one place today – but stay tuned as I’ll be mentioning my culinary adventures in Cedar Key in my blog posts in coming weeks.
Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, which has been around since 2005, is best known for its clam chowder, the recipe for which is a well-guarded secret. After trying the creamy chowder, I can see why it has won the Knorr Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport R.I. the last two years.
Yes, this little Florida restaurant beat out all the other competitors, most of which were restaurants from New England, a place generally thought of as the clam chowder capital of the world. In a landslide. And, the competition is judged by the thousands of people who attend it, most of them New Englanders.
I really loved this chowder - and I'm from New England, and grew up eating what I've always considered the world's best!
Anyway, Tony's chowder ($4.45 for a cup, $7.99 for a bowl) is spicy – not so much that your eyes even come close to watering, but it does have a kick. It has huge chunks of clams (Cedar Key clams, of course) and potato. There were several layers of flavor, and I could swear there was a hint of bacon in there… But chef-owner Eric Jungklaus - the recipe's creator - wouldn’t give even a tiny clue as to the chowder's ingredients.
I got my chowder with a side of steamed clams and a buttery slice of garlic bread. The chowder's made fresh daily - by the gallons. You can eat in, take out, or have the chowder shipped to you, anywhere in the continental United States. Jungklaus is in talks to have the chowder canned – so you may even see it on other restaurants’ menus one of these days.
For more info, visit www.tonyschowder.com.