Whole-bellied clams. They’re one of the foods readers seem to miss most from the East Coast and New England, one of the things they most frequently say they want to find in Las Vegas. As far as I know, Lazy Joe’s Fish &Chips is about the only place in town that serves them.
And, well, this might be a good time to remind you to be careful what you ask for.
Because here’s the thing: Some types of seafood, and especially clams, don’t fare all that well once they’re out of the ocean. Get ’em at a little seafood shack on the shores of Cape Cod and fried whole-bellied clams are likely to be plump, juicy and sweet, with the briny flavor of the sea. Pack ’em up and ship ’em across the country and, well, not so much.
Lazy Joe’s uses a somewhat unusual and probably proprietary blend — one that’s gluten-free — to coat its seafood and other fried foods. In most cases that’s a good thing, because this particularly crunchy coating seems to shed grease rather than retain it, which means that the somewhat thinly sliced onion rings ($3.29) were almost delicate, the onion flavor predominant, the grease nearly nonexistent.
But put that neutral coating together with clams that have been out of the water for a while and taken across the country, and you get extreme clam flavor. The clams we were served ($15.99 for the medium-sized dinner we had, $18.99 for large), were alternately crunchy and chewy, which is one of the best things about these no matter where you have them, but kinda strongly flavored. The tartar sauce helped, and the lemon wedge we squeezed over them helped even more. But just remember you’re not in Ipswich.
With the clams we chose fried sweet potatoes, which were crisp-edged but moist inside and served in great profusion. The dinner also included a cup of crunchy, creamy coleslaw that was one of the best we’ve had lately, and two hush puppies, sufficiently seasoned and nicely crispy, and small enough that they weren’t overly dry inside.
Which is the same thing we can say about the fish and chips ($8.49 for one fillet, $10.99 for two, $13.99 for three). Lazy Joe’s offers a choice of cod, haddock or catfish, which is a really nice option, and the haddock we had was firm and sweet, its mild flavor perfectly paired with that delicate coating because it wasn’t overwhelmed by it. Coleslaw with this one, too, and regular fries, which were as well-prepared in their own right as the sweet-potato fries. And hush puppies.
Lazy Joe’s is a counter-service restaurant, a small strip-center spot that’s fairly spare but also colorful. It puts menus on the tables, which is nice, because the menu is pretty extensive (fried oysters, shrimp, coconut shrimp, popcorn shrimp, scallops, chicken fingers …) and it gave us a chance to look things over and make some decisions before ordering. We ordered at the counter, and in due time the food was brought to our table.
I’ve long been an opponent of the idea that good seafood can’t be had in the desert, because examples are all around us, including at Lazy Joe’s. But with some things, it’s not nice to try to fool Mother Nature.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.