Overlooking the picturesque Parker River in West Yarmouth, Captain Parker’s Pub has been serving up their famous, award-winning clam chowder since 1981. With walls decked out in local fire and police department patches and nostalgic sports memorabilia, Captain Parker’s is the epitome of a local New England Pub. Unlike many of its neighbors, Captain Parker’s is open year-round, and except for one blizzardy day in 2005, has been open every day since its opening.
The restaurant was even open during its expansion in 1985 when owner Gerry Manning decided it was time for Captain Parker’s Pub to graduate from a small bar to a full-scale restaurant. “Over thirty-seven years, we have evolved,” he explains. “It used to be a small local spot—a tavern with a tiny kitchen.”
A former Boston school teacher, Manning had originally envisioned that the restaurant would be seasonal. “I figured we would open in April and close in October and I would stay with teaching,” he remembers. “But back in 1981, there was a fiscal crisis leading to a huge layoff of almost 50% of Boston teachers.” Manning was among those laid off, and being young and single at the time, he decided to take a chance on opening a restaurant.
“I went down to the town hall, got a year-round license,” he reminisces. “The building didn’t even have heat. Friends of mine were masons, so we built a hearth and heated it with coal.” According to Manning, Captain Parker’s was able to “squeak by” the first winter with the help of a great kitchen crew and the support of regulars. Popularity increased, and by 1985, the small pub had expanded into a 130-seat restaurant.
That surge in popularity was due to the pub’s famous clam chowder. In quintessential New England style, this chowder has a thick and creamy consistency and is rich in flavor. “After the first spoonful, people are puzzled and wondering what that flavor is. After the second spoonful, it hits the taste buds again… and soon enough they’re scraping the bottom of the bowl,” Manning says. “It’s the chemistry and the process we have developed.” Surprisingly, Manning explains that there is no “secret ingredient” in this decadent chowder. “We don’t fly in a special herb from the South Pacific,” he quips. “We make it large quantities, but in small batches. And we only use good, fresh New England ingredients.”
Captain Parker’s chowder has won eighteen first place awards, including at Cape Cod Chowder Fest, Boston Chowder Fest, and Newport’s Great Chowder Cook-Off. The chowder has also been featured on Rachael Ray and was touted as the “best chowder in America” by Food Network. Captain Parker’s chowder a was also an answer on Jeopardy, which for Manning, might be the greatest honor of all.