I’ve noted many changes over the years on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle. Some restaurants have stood the test of time--take Matuba, Pannetteria and Tragara for example—others adapted or morphed multiple times. Remember the Tel Aviv Café? Well, there’s a new kid in on the block--Freddy’s Lobster & Clams—in its former location.
My first instinct as I walked into this shiny-new seafood restaurant was —hey, this could work! All my neighbors are buzzing about Freddy’s (while I was there, three friends walked in for lunch for their second time that week!), but what stands out to me is the friendly service, cheerful décor and food options that are really fun.
Freddy’s Lobster & Clams, at 4867 Cordell, was created by Grapeseed owner Jeff Heineman who as a child spent time with his grandfather (for whom the restaurant is named) in New England. There, apparently, they regularly dined on fresh clams and lobster. I can understand how those childhood experiences helped Heineman re-create a seafood shack you’d typically find in Bar Harbor or Nantucket. Heineman’s memories have inspired a restaurant quite different from his successful and elegant Grapeseed.
Freddy’s is now Grapeseed’s casual next-door neighbor. Heineman’s new place is where you stop for a craft beer at the bar, gather into a cozy booth, and when weather permits, dine al fresco. I’ve seen people eating at Freddy’s outdoor picnic tables. If you squint, you can imagine little waves lapping at the dock, while authentic-looking New England cuisine is served in paper boxes or Styrofoam cups.
I say “authentic,” because I’ve heard mixed reviews about Freddy’s food. Some people rave about the lobster roll, while others say it’s not like the ones they ate in Boston. Well, I ate a lobster roll in Halifax, Nova Scotia last summer, and frankly, I thought Freddy’s lobster roll was better. I don’t presume to be an expert, I haven’t eaten many in my lifetime, but I thought it was scrumptious. Freddy’s lobster roll is compact, but there’s no filler (like celery), and it’s served on the perfect bun—toasted, buttered and substantial enough to hold a hearty portion of claw and tail meat.
I ate the chilled version of the lobster roll gently bathed in lemony, paprika mayonnaise dressing; there’s also a warm version topped with butter. The lobster meat is cut into large chunks, and the rolls come with skinny, crispy French fries--addicting, though not necessarily great. For $2 more you can replace fries for giant onion rings. Another optional side, coleslaw flavored with fennel, was (perhaps) a bit odd. We thought it should be as traditional as the other items on the menu.
We enjoyed the calamari which comes with red sauce or is served spicy-Rhode Island style. The crusty batter does not overwhelm--the calamari inside remained tender and juicy. And though there is no need to hide Freddy’s calamari in tangy marinara and spicy tartar, the sauces were savory accompaniments.
Freddy’s fried belly clams seem to be the fave among those who know New England cuisine. They get a big thumbs up from just about everyone who likes clams. I am not one of those people, but I might try them next time. For the fish ‘n chips, a large piece of fried haddock arrives atop a mountain of fries. There’s also a New England version of lobster stew and two kinds of clam chowder—New England creamy or Rhode Island "clear." Landlubbers will find a safe haven with salad, grilled steak or chicken served in a Portuguese tomato olive sauce.
I’ve heard from one insider that Freddy’s will offer clams and other seafood delicacies grilled or boiled once they are seasonal. That may suit people who hesitate to eat fried food.
Freddy’s bar is full service, but the main dining room requires you to order at a window, and then the meal is delivered to your table. The food is not inexpensive, but a little goes a long way. They have a kid’s meal with hamburger, hot dogs, grilled cheese, and for the adventurous tot, clam strips or shrimp boats.
I really, really would like to try the whoopie pie for dessert but was too full this time. Freddy’s arrival in Bethesda was perfectly timed with the steamy summer weather. What do you think, is Freddy's here to stay?