The bar at Freddy’s, left, with fish nets and plastic lobsters; an assortment of seafood, including fried clams and a lobster roll. Photographs by Erik Uecke
“I wanted the crappy stuff,” says chef Jeff Heineman, sitting on a cherry-red swivel chair at Freddy’s Lobster + Clams, his New England-style seafood shack that opens today in Bethesda. Fortunately, he’s not talking about the lobsters—one-pound-plus crustaceans swimming in a large saltwater pool—or the fresh clams, Jonah-crab claws, or any seafood on the menu for that matter. The crappy stuff that Heineman is referring to is restaurant decorations: old buoys, chipping signs, wooden gulls, and other New England tchotchkes.
Heineman spent four years researching the menu and design for the 90-seat restaurant, which is next door to Grapeseed, his 11-year-old wine bar and bistro. He took trips to Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, where he ate at dozens of seafood shacks and gathered nautical antiques and recipes. And he took home interior-decorating ideas, such as plastic lobsters and fraying fishnets.
For the menu at Freddy’s, named for his grandfather, Heineman was tempted to serve just lobsters and clams but instead “gussied up” the options for the Bethesda palate, with such dishes as fishcakes with fava beans and chorizo and steak topped with onions, peppers, and a fried egg—both a nod to the Portuguese communities in Massachusetts. But the majority of the fare is humble, with lots coming from the fryer: clams, calamari (served with a red sauce or a spicy Rhode Island-style one), haddock, and Maine shrimp. There are also lobster rolls—warm and butter-drizzled or cold and mayo-bound—and lobster stew served with a blueberry muffin. There’s one non-New England touch: Chef Gillian Clark, whose fried chicken developed a cult-like following at the now-shuttered General Store, will fry birds Wednesday nights starting next week.
Adding to the shack-like feel is the seating, which includes communal, picnic-style tables on the front patio and in the main dining room, where the walls are lined with wooden shingles. There’s a counter for lunchtime ordering and pickup, table service at dinner, and a long bar equipped with lots of craft beers: 46 in bottles and cans and a dozen more on tap.
The formula makes for a very different place than Grapeseed, a low-lit spot with sharp servers and a long wine list. But when talking about the new restaurant, Heineman has this to say: “I love the simplicity of it.”
Freddy’s Lobster + Clams, 4867 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, 240-743-4257; freddyslobster.com. Open Monday through Thursday 10 to 11, Friday and Saturday 10 to 1, Sunday 11 to 9.
Click the image to view the full dinner and cocktail menus.