by LINDA BEAULIEU
PHOTO BY HILARY BLOCK
Our unusually warm spring had me craving chowder and clam cakes earlier than usual this year. I like my chowder clear, and free of any cream or tomato additions – which is considered by many to be the official and authentic chowder of Rhode Island. And I like my clam cakes to be golden brown, studded with chopped quahogs, with an almost fluffy interior. Family, friends and even total strangers are always asking me where to find the very best chowder and clam cakes. I feel it is my duty to research this issue quite thoroughly, and this year I got off to an early start with a visit to the “new” George’s of Galilee.
It started out many years ago as George’s Lunch, with four tables and seating for six at the counter. George (last name now forgotten) sold his business to Norman and Edna Durfee in 1948. In 1969, the restaurant was handed over to their son Richard, who turned George’s into a Rhode Island landmark. He doubled its size, expanded the menu and added decks and function rooms. Today, George’s is the largest waterfront restaurant in the state, seating about 500 people and overlooking the busy channel between Galilee and Jerusalem.
The current owner is seeing to it that the family restaurant is keeping up with the times. Over the past winter, they closed briefly for extensive renovations. A spiffy new George’s has emerged, with a dining room that still has plenty of nautical charm. A fieldstone fireplace occupies the rear wall. Outside is a new stone patio with a fire pit that is sure to be a popular gathering spot this sum mer. Upstairs, the Harbor View Room remains the same with its big bar and tables that spill out onto the open-air deck in warm weather. With a view of fishing boats and the Block Island Ferry crossing the channel, George’s just can’t be beat. Fortunately, the food is as pleasing as that view.
With drinks from the lively bar, we started off with the Baked Stuffed Quahogs (two for $5.99), the ideal appetizer to share while you study the large menu. These stuffies are quite good, with a light consistency and zesty flavor. A dash of hot sauce made them even more enjoyable.
On this initial visit, we could not resist the Friday Fish Fest,providing all-youcan-eat of George’s famous clam cakes, chowder and fish and chips ($12.99). This is offered every Friday from 3-6pm. If you’re feeling guilty about all that fried food, you can ask for roasted cod or baked stuffed flounder ($14.99). At either price, the Fish Fest is a bargain. If you were to order the clam cakes, chowder and fish and chips individually, it would cost you $4.99 for a half dozen clam cakes, $4.89 for a small bowl of chowder, and $12.99 for the fish and chips.
I had every intention of asking for second helpings of everything, but this is hearty fare. Only those with the hugest appetites will be able to eat more than what is served initially. I dove into the basket of clam cakes, tearing one open and taking a bite even though it was too hot to enjoy. Forcing myself to slow down, I sprinkled a little salt on the steaming cakes and waited to take that second bite. Ah, a golden pillow of airy dough with nuggets of chewy quahogs here and there. It’s times like these that I can’t imagine ever moving away from our beloved Ocean State.
I am one of those clear chowder fanatics who would never, ever put anything but quahogs into a chowder. I’m always delighted when I see that a restaurant offers a choice in chowders – clear, white or red. The clear chowder I had at George’s was just about perfect, with plenty of finely chopped clams and just the right amount of potatoes cooked until tender to the bite. After three clam cakes, I had to set them aside, but I did manage to request another bowl of chowder – it was that good. I just had to have more.
But this was all a prelude to the magnificent fish and chips placed before us. I had three pieces of fish (our personable waiter, Conor, said it was haddock) over more French fries than I could ever eat. The fish was prepared traditionally in George’s Old English batter. Each piece was golden brown, moist and tender. A small ramekin of pleasing coleslaw served as a palate cleanser in between bites of fried food. We ended up bringing home some of our fish, which made for excellent fried fish sandwiches the next day.
On our second visit to George’s, we tried more of what the extensive menu has to offer (although it is mostly seafood). For starters, we tried the Lemongrass Calamari ($10.99) and the Seafood Skins ($10.49). The squid, battered and fried until golden brown, had a sweet lemony flavor. The potato skins were quite filling, topped with small scallops, whole shrimp, lobster sauce and mozzarella.
For the main course, Brian thoroughly enjoyed the Smokey Mountain Tenderloin Tips ($15.79), comprising plenty of tender steak tips flavored with hickory and mesquite, served with mashed potatoes on the side. The only boring component was the vegetable medley of steamed summer squash and zucchini. The Jamaican Jerk Shrimp Bowl ($14.99) consisted of plump shrimp tossed in jerk seasoning with stir-fried vegetables, mostly broccoli, over rice.
If you somehow have enough appetite left for dessert, by all means order the Key Lime Pie ($5.99) and the Carrot Cake Cupcake ($3). The pie is a mouthful of summer – sweet and tart at the same time. The cupcake is made by Erica, a member of the waitstaff. It is simply one of the very best carrot cakes I’ve ever had.