Every summer, from June through September, The Norwalk Seaport Association provides an escape from the rush of city life and the exhaustion of a grueling workday. They transport you to the shores of idyllic Sheffield Island, a sanctuary on the sea, truly taking you back to the way summer should be.
The Sheffield Island Clambake got it’s start a little over 10 years ago and has become a much anticipated summer tradition for many families. The Norwalk Seaport Association is a non-profit organization that has owned, restored, and maintained the Sheffield Island Lighthouse since 1986. Sheffield Island opens its dock to visitors May through September, inviting them to tour the 142 year old light house, have a picnic, or look for shells along the beach.
Our getaway began at 5:45 pm when we arrived at the Maritime Aquarium in South Norwalk eager to see what the night would bring. We departed at 6 pm sharp, with a lively group ready for a night on the water. It was a sweltering 99 degrees as we boarded the ferry but as soon as we started moving the breeze masked the heat and it quickly became an afterthought. The rhythmic sound of the waves and my eyes set on the horizon, let me soak in the serenity and begin to daydream. It took the slowing of the boat to bring me back to my senses and catch my first glimpse of the lighthouse on Sheffield Island. I could include all the pictures I took that night (over 200 of them!) on this page yet none would do the view justice. The island is picturesque, with the evening sun creating an undeniable glow off of the lighthouse.
We disembark and walk the mere ten yards onto land, where the setting of the night came into view. Sitting in the center of the 57 acre island were 2 large tents, prepped and ready for an evening of celebration. Hunger setting in, I unloaded my belongings on one of the clothed picnic tables, helped myself to a glass of ice-cold lemonade, and headed for the grill. There, Chef Clyde Ripka of Bull’s Head Market, was busy putting the finishing touches on the meal he’d been preparing for the last 2 hours. As his sous chef, Connor McMarrow finished grilling the zucchini and squash rounds, Ripka headed to a table and began serving the first course of the meal…the clams themselves. Along with the clams were a bounty of mussels and an endless supply of butter. Though I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a clam, and have to admit it’s mainly for the butter, a more educated diner declared that they were the best clam’s he’s ever had and proceeded to get in line for thirds.
After the shellfish, our boisterous group took the opportunity to refill their glasses (the dinner is BYOB) while others used the moment to load up on bug spray (the citronella candles didn’t quite do the trick) and clear their tables for the next course. Like clockwork, as we settled back down it was announced that “Diner was served!” prompting guests to begin to congregate at the serving tables. The smell of the entrées were so enticing that I questioned if the lobster had been the right decision, but was soon put at ease with the realization that each main course was equally delicious. I filled my FIRST plate with a beautiful mixed green salad drizzled with creamy balsamic dressing, grilled potato “chips” as they called them, grilled summer squash and zucchini and the best cole slaw I’ve ever tasted! When I rounded the table and moved on to the second table laden with food I was greeted by yet another brimming plate filled corn, mini buckets of butter and a WHOLE lobster staring back at me. My mom and I returned to our table at the same time and took in the display before us. Between the two of us (and a some last minute additions from from Chef Ripka) we had 5 plates comprised of all I listed above plus a Rib Eye AND BBQ Pulled Pork. The entire meal was simply delicious. We spent the next hour chatting, eating, drinking and laughing, pausing only to get another napkin or refill our drinks. The dinner was relaxing and enjoyable and as the sun began to set on the water I couldn’t imagine a more perfect evening.
I returned from the beach, after snapping some pictures of the sunset, to find dessert being plated and the night winding down. Strawberry shortcake (with a few extra strawberries on top) was a sweet end to an unforgettable night.
The night was one I hope to repeat again soon, I mean what could be more New England then a boat ride and clambake?
As a result of the continued success and increased intrerest in the Thursday night clambakes, The Norwalk Seaport Association now offers a Friday night sunset cruise ending with a dinner at Atlas Restaurant in Norwalk. As the Association points out, if you want to beat the heat and indulge in an enjoyable tour around the Norwalk islands with the sunset as a backdrop, this is a trip you don’t want to miss. Add dinner and you have a memorable date night. The Norwalk Seaport Association is also responsible for The Oyster Festival, held every September (this year September 7-9th) and an event for all ages.
For more information and dates, visit http://www.seaport.org/.