Food

My Personal Quest for the World’s Best Clam Chowder: Duke’s Chowder House in Seattle

Photo: Jason King. CC-BY.

I finally got a chance to check out the new Seattle Duke’s restaurant on Lake Union. The establishment has recently relocated one block north from its original location to 1111 Fairview.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day. I had drinks and dinner on the outside deck. The view on the water with all the shiny new boats was exceptional. Service was super friendly and very prompt. The atmosphere was very relaxed and casual. (Yes, there was one table of wealthy “exclusive” business-type folks who were speaking in whispers as if they were selling exclusive rights to the entire world, but we all just ignored them…)

I started my feast with a distinctive pale ale suggested by our waiter Tim. Fremont Brewing’s “Sky Kraken” is one of the best beers I’ve ever had the pleasure to consume. It tasted great! Super smooth with a sunny yellow color which is very appealing. Great suggestion -Thanks Tim!

Duke’s is famous for it’s award-winning chowders. It is in fact a “chowder house” so you’ll find some the freshest seafood on the west coast. If you’re visiting Seattle you simply must try the seafood. You’ll never find fresh delicacies like this in Phoenix or Chicago! Oysters on the half shell, salmon, Dungeness crab, etc.

Here’s my suggestion: After you’ve had a few sips of your amazingly good microbrew (they serve 14 & 20 ounce glasses at a reasonable price), try a sampler of their famous chowders. The small cups are called “dinghys”. You can order at least four different kinds of chowder with a side of their wonderfully soft yummy bread. They also serve bread bowls (highly recommended!).

New England-style chowder is the standard fare in Boston and Seattle, but you can sometimes find the red Manhattan-style as well. I consider myself to be a serious chowder connoisseur, having searched for the best oyster and clam chowders available on Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

I’m very familiar with how freshly harvested and prepared seafood should taste. The Pacific Ocean has much to offer in terms of fish and mollusks. The salmon is incredible (try it smoked with pasta fettuccine!).

I’m very lucky because I spent a lot of time in my youth with my father Floyd fishing for salmon or cod and trapping crabs. Our boat followed the commercial fishing ships and charters that were working out of the ports of Ilwaco, La Push, Neah Bay, Westport, etc.

Dad also did some scuba diving, so he’d bring up strange creatures like urchins and sea cucumbers to show the kids. We also harvested clams and oysters on Puget Sound and fished for trout, perch, bass, etc. on inland lakes and rivers.

The Northwest is both beautiful and bountiful!

My family used to spend weekends on our beach property at Ocean Shores, Washington. My mother would shop for all the local fresh seafood we could find — salmon, cod, mussels, scallops, clams, calamari, crab, shrimp, etc.

Mom would cook it all up in a big pot with a strong white wine base and season it with a bay leaf, garlic, etc. It would all be served as “Mary’s Special Cioppino” (pronounced “chu-pee-no”) with the clams still in the shell and the crab un-cracked. It was a wonderfully messy dish that we all loved. Even the kids got a little happy from the wine.

In the Northwest you’ll find the best butter and razor clams available anywhere. If you’re feeling really adventurous, try the geoduck which is not a water fowl but is actually a very large and intimidating looking clam that’s extremely difficult to harvest. If you’ve ever been clam digging on the Pacific coast and tried to dig for a geoduck you know what I mean. They are very strong!

But let’s get back to the meal…

At the new Duke’s on Fairview I decided to sample the Italian-style cioppino seafood chowder in honor of my mother. The dish features their incomparable wild Alaskan Copper River salmon. It also includes cod and halibut from Alaska. It’s the red colored dish on the upper right in the photo (courtesy of byoblikeaboss.com).

By the way, the website states:

“All of our Salmon, Halibut, Rockfish, Cod and Weathervane Scallops are 100% Wild & Sustainably caught in Alaska. Our shellfish is 100% sustainable from the Pacific Ocean including our Dungeness Crab from the Washington and Oregon coast, Mussels from Penn Cove on Whidbey Island and Wild Prawns from the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.”

Bottom line — I liked it! Very tasty with many subtle tangy accents that reminded me of my mom’s recipe for Mary’s special seafood cioppino. You definitely want to dig in right away while it’s still hot. Yum!

I also sampled Duke’s famous award-winning clam chowder. This dish is my usual favorite at cafes and restaurants all along the coast, from Long Beach on the Pacific ocean, to Poulsbo on the Salish Sea and Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. I’ve tasted dozens of clam concoctions in the Northwest – most are good, some are truly extraordinary!

Having spent some time in France, I tend to prefer creamy rich and thick soups. I enjoyed my latest favorite hearty chowder at Winslow during one of my frequent trips to Bainbridge Island (you can take a ferry to the island from Seattle). I enjoyed that great chowder at Doc’s Marina Grill.

I must admit, however, that Duke’s restaurant gets my award for the best clam chowder in the city of Seattle and maybe best in the state. It had everything a chowder needs — a thick creamy texture and rich hearty taste with just the right amount of herbs and sea salt. My compliments to the chef!

You should use the bread to soak up the broth. Bread or crackers and chowder are inseparable. You simply can’t have one without the other!

All in all it was a great experience. The wait staff was very attentive and cheerful. I was able to get some privacy and distance from the other diners while enjoying the open air and a wonderful view from the deck. If you appreciate boats, seafood, microbrews and a relaxed waterfront lifestyle, then Duke’s is for you.

I’m often out on the lake enjoying sunny days in my boat, so I will definitely be back to visit the crew at Duke’s Chowder House again very soon. My ultimate quest for the best clam chowder in the world may have finally been realized!