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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Donna Walsh and Teresa Tanzi are wrong!

Shame on them both!
By Will Collette

As most readers know, I have been a big fan of state Representatives Donna Walsh and Teresa Tanzi in the past. They, along with state Rep. Larry Valencia, have been my three favorite members of the RI House.

But I feel betrayed after learning the Donna and Teresa were the lead co-sponsors of Rep. Joe McNamara’s bill, H-5654, to make fried calamari with pickled yellow peppers the Official State Appetizer. Larry, to his credit, was wise enough to stay out of it.

I like fried calamari a lot, but certainly not as the state’s Official Appetizer. As my left-wing blogger colleague Bob Plain of Rhode Island’s Future wrote, what about clam cakes?

And what about stuffies!!!

During the 25 years that Cathy and I lived in exile in Washington DC, we drove back to Rhode Island at least once a year to visit with family. Driving the dreadful eight hours on I-95, as soon as we reached Bridgeport, I would start chanting “Clam cakes! Clam cakes! Clam cakes![1]” I’d keep it up until we reached RI. That was Cathy’s favorite part of the trip.

Clam cakes are one of the few things that will make me cheat on my diabetes control diet. They’re worth risking my life for.

I study the various ways they’re made here in Rhode Island. Some recipes call for a dense dough, often deep-fried to a crunchy, dark brown finish. At the opposite extreme are the ones with light batters and a soft, golden finish. 

I prefer the later, and in my opinion, no one does that type of clam cake better than Charlestown’s summertime destination, The Hitching Post, on Route One.

The Hitching Post would get an A+ except they commit the terrible heresy of calling them “clam fritters” as if this was some boondock place in Connecticut. Indeed, I generally associate the term “fritters” with some of the concoctions I’ve sampled in the South, although they are almost invariably corn fritters.

Now, when I ran this article past my Progressive Charlestown colleagues, they all copped to being clam cake lovers – but not as appetizers. Combined with a good chowder (excuse me, chowdah), they make a meal. 

As Bob Yarnall put it, I used to be able to woof down a plate of calamari and still enjoy a chunk of lasagna. Couldn't have done the lasagna, or anything else for that matter, after clam cakes, because you have to eat at least a half dozen to get the full effect. By then, the appetite is diminished as opposed to enhanced, no?”

Don’t get me started about stuffies. Talk about incredible variations on the theme. Stuffies almost always work, provided they contain enough clams (and linguiƧa) and there’s enough hot sauce.

In my universe of Rhode Island appetizer specialties, clam cakes are Number One, far and away, followed by stuffies and then, in third place, fried calamari.

I could list various delectable oyster-related appetizers, but too many of the best recipes originate outside of Rhode Island. It must be because we haven’t had much of an oyster culture in Rhode Island until recent efforts to bring them back, both through aquaculture – a bad word in Charlestown for some stupid reason – and through pond clean-up.

But Donna and Teresa need to re-think their support for McNamara’s calamari legislation. What the hell does a guy from Warwick know about seafood anyway? He’s probably too young to remember the delights of Warwick’s own Rocky Point clam cakes from the good old days. I’ll bet he’s never been to Iggy’s.

Fried calamari, indeed.

When I told Donna Walsh I was writing this article, I gave her a chance to defend her position. Always the diplomat, she attempted a compromise: If you prefer stuffies or clam cakes, it is obvious that you have not tried the calamari at the Charlestown Breachway Grill. It seems you prefer members of the mollusk family so maybe we can mollify you by making RI style chowder as our state chowder.”
Teresa and Donna - right on most things. Wrong on this. 

Nah-uh, Donna. I won’t be mollified!

Rep. Tanzi, who represents the Port of Galilee had no sense of humor when contacted for a comment on the story. She takes this issue very seriously she assured me.

"There is no competition here. Point Judith Calamari is the only game in town. Much like the finest parmigiano can only be called reggiano if it comes from Parma, the best calamari comes from RI, right here in Galilee. This is serious business in the squid capital."  

After a moment of silent reflection, she added, "Stuffies and clamcakes are a joke, the ratio is all wrong on protein to starch. Any serious foodie knows that." 

These types of food fights aren’t just fun and games, however. Rhode Island has been gaining a reputation as a “foodie” haven and our own local specialties are part of the reason.

Plus, I can see Teresa’s point in the value of promoting fried calamari to give a boost to our squid fisher folk. What with catch limits on cod and other popular varieties of fish, the still bountiful squid will become an increasingly important part of the market.

And, yes, even though they are not #1 on my list (actually they’re #3), lots of Rhode Islanders love them. just weighed in with its own list of favorite calamari establishments.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. McNamara, noted that Rhode Island has the nation’s largest squid-fishing fleet. They work out of Galilee which is about to get $3 million worth of infrastructure development.

Coffee cabinets. NY System wieners “all the way.” Johnnycakes. There are a lot of tourism dollars – and jobs – on the line so we have to make our choices for what we call our “official” food very carefully.


[1] My Progressive Charlestown colleague Linda Felaco, who was also exiled to Washington DC for a similar length of time, says she actually yearned more for snail salad. She also credits Vetrano’s in Westerly (one of my own favorite local Italian restaurants) for making outstanding fried calamari.