TIVERTON, R.I. -- Americans may be cutting back on fried food, but you'd never know it by visiting Evelyn's Drive-In. At noon on a summer day, the crushed clamshell driveway is almost full, as are most of the restaurant's 20 tables. "If it's hot, it's mobbed," says Jane Bitto, the owner.
The dining room is air-conditioned, while the outdoor patio on Nanaquaket Pond is a perfect place to enjoy summer's pleasures and devour a bowl of Rhode Island chowder, a couple of stuffies, and a platter of fried scallops or clams.
Translation: Fried food police not welcome here. Clam shack aficionados, step right in.
The little red building sits at the water's edge, framed out front by a take-out window and menu board. A line has formed and orders are being taken. "One clam plate, two fish and chips, an order of crab cakes," a counter person shouts into the kitchen.
The restaurant opened 40 years ago and is named for its founder, Evelyn Duponte. Bitto and her husband, Dominic, have owned it for 21 years, and two of their three children work here. One teenage daughter makes the clam cakes. A teenage son is the fry cook. "My husband and I are always in the kitchen," Jane says.
Evelyn's is mostly a seafood restaurant, with fried clams, shrimp, and scallops among the most popular menu items, but there is eclectic fare beyond salads and burgers: chow mein sandwich, lobster chow mein, meatloaf, and chicken pie.
Bill and Elizabeth McCarthy have been coming here for more than half of their 62 married years. "The food is good and plentiful," says Elizabeth McCarthy. When their children were young, they would stop at Evelyn's on the way home from the beach, Bill McCarthy recalls. On a recent day, the McCarthys have returned with their daughter, Cynthia Cole. "The service is friendly, you see a lot of local people, and I love the views," Cole says.
Views aside, the seafood is the cornerstone of Evelyn's. "The New England Clam Shack Cookbook" by Brooke Dojny includes three recipes from Evelyn's. A recent review on "Phantom Gourmet" described Evelyn's as a "hidden jewel." The secret to the light, fried seafood is in the oil and the batter. Besides using cholesterol-free oil, "which is more expensive but what our customers want," Jane Bitto says, they fry with a dry batter, just like the original Evelyn's.
Stuffies, for the uninitiated, are what Rhode Islanders call stuffed quahogs, and Rhode Island clam chowder is not the same as New England. "Rhode Island chowder is clear, not thickened. There's a lot of potatoes and clams, and once you have Rhode Island chowder, you never want to go back to New England," says Bitto. Another source of pride is Evelyn's lobster salad sandwich. "We use fresh lobster, in a hot dog roll, served with mayonnaise on the side, or warm with butter. We don't pre-mix it, so you don't know how much lobster -- what you see is what you get," says Dominic Bitto. Says Tiverton resident Beth Dolan Whitehead: "Evelyn's lobster roll is the best in my 54 years."
In a nod to the health-conscious, many entrees are cooked without a deep fryer. Grilled salmon, with potato and vegetable, lemon pepper fish, and pan grilled sea scallops are popular. The specials on a recent day included a calamari Caesar salad and a big fat Greek salad with crabmeat. But when the day's orders are counted, it's the fried seafood customers crave. "I'd estimate we go through 15 gallons of clams a day," Jane Bitto says.
Evelyn's serves beer, wine, and cocktails, and great desserts are also part of the experience. Try Evelyn's Brownie Sundae, a warm homemade fudge brownie topped with ice cream and hot fudge sprinkles; grape-nut pudding; or a slice of blueberry pie.
Summer after summer, Evelyn's is filled with regulars, but newcomers are welcome. "Since Phantom Gourmet stopped by, we've had customers from as far away as North Carolina," says server Debbie Manchester.
As clam shacks go, this one stacks up: no frills, no tablecloths, but great clam cakes and onion rings, and food to go. You can drive, or come by boat (Evelyn's has a private dock), from April through October.
Marie C. Franklin can be reached at email@example.com.