Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lunching In A Haz-Mat Suit?

Our friend Tony mentioned in passing that he and friends were going to dine at the Chowder Barge. I was immediately interested because Richie used to clam the north shore of Long Island and his brother still does as a professional bayman. I berated Tony for having kept this place secret and he haughtily informed me that he hadn't thought I'd be interested in dining in the middle of the industrial part of Wilmington. This annoyed me so I told him that clearly he didn't know Richie's gift at unerringly finding the seediest bar in any town we've ever been in and being welcomed by the denizens therein.

The online comments ran from dining on a real barge set atop toxic waters to breathing in the fumes and odors from any one of several surrounding refineries to dust blown off the tracks by frequent freight trains. But the "pirates and their, uh, ladies" were exotic and colorful companions. Universally the clam chowder was praised as "best ever."

Our interest whetted to the breaking point, we set off yesterday for lunch there. Finding it for the first time is difficult - use MapQuest or Mapblast.

The parking lot is divided by yellow tape to separate the stored cars and RVs from the rest of us. It really is a barge, anchored near the offices of the marina in which it sits. It may sit in toxic water, but so do the many, many small boats surrounding it. The air was clean and fresh as we walked up the gangplank to go inside.

The first thing I noticed was a mesh-sided fire pit, hanging from chains in the ceiling, painted a bright red. There are deep booths which would probably seat eight comfortably, some scattered tables and captain's chairs. The room is one-third oval bar and two-thirds dining space, all of it surrouonded by big, sliding windows.

We ordered from a very friendly waitress who told us the barge was built for use as the commissary during shooting of "Mutiny On The Bounty." It's always been a restaurant one way or another.

Our food (patty melt and a cheeseburger) were non-descript, but Richie said the chowder was indeed excellent. I took a sip of the soup part and it was good! (And I wouldn't eat a clam on a drunken bet.) Many chowders are a sort of library paste with scattered clams. This wasn't. It was thinner; there was a balance of flavors - butter, cream, potato and clams - with a slight pepper back taste.

The conversation among three guys at the bar included these gems: there are more Harley-Davidsons per capita in Alaska than any other state. More Alaskans walk to work than any other state. If a bear is chasing you, run on a diagonal - a bear cannot run sidewise. Useful information, no?

Ignore what's said online about the place and leave your haz-mat suit at home.

The Chowder Barge, 611 Henry Ford Ave., #200, Wilmington, CA 90744 Two Pacificos, a cheeseburger, a patty melt and cup of chowder cost $25.13

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