POINT OF PURCHASE The fare is super-fresh at Jim’s Dock.
There are some traditional celebrations, like the Fourth of July or Secretary's Day, that you comply with out of habit or generosity. And then there are traditions like chowing down at Jim's Dock in the summer that you make sure to do every year because it brings you and yours big, happy grins.
Restaurants with a water view and sea breeze are common enough in Rhode Island, but few are this inexpensive at this quality — and since they are BYOB, with no annoying corkage fee, that lowers the bill even further. The best seafood restaurants have relationships with fishing boats in order to get their pick of the catch each trip, and that's the case here. On one occasion, a special was "Karen Elizabeth scallops," named after the boat they had come in on that day. (On that day, fellow diners included the owner of another South County restaurant and the staff he was treating. How's that for recommendation?)
Jim's Dock is also a Jerusalem marina, surrounded by recreational and charter boats, located at the passageway to Salt Pond. The Block Island Ferry passes by from its port in Galilee across the water. The only disadvantage of the colorful view, with seagulls wheeling overhead and perhaps settling on pilings next to you, is that you and your table are, um, potential targets.
Although the best time to head to Jim's Dock is on a sunny day when you can enjoy yourself outdoors, there is plenty of natural light inside, the two dining areas having nautical decor that tries to compete with those gulls. The place is clam-shack-informal, with each of those outside tables having a roll of paper towels and condiments in an American flag-theme bucket. (The menu offers "Freedom Fries," not the version named after a certain country that objected to our 2003 invasion of Iraq. Dave DeCubellis, the owner for almost 40 years, either enjoys the by-now tongue-in-cheek reference or really, really can hold a grudge.)
Previously we'd enjoyed their "Crunchy Flounder" (then, as now, priced to market), the intriguing attraction being that the fillets are rolled in crushed corn flakes and spices. We also enjoyed the tasty stuffies; the cod cakes, with ample fish-to-mashed potatoes ratio; and the definitive take on the state soup, Rhode Island clam chowder.
So I had to start with that last item. Let the rest of New England add milk or cream to their versions; let them add a shot of rum in desperate attempt to distract us — we locals know that the only proper way to amp up clam chowder is to add more of the active ingredient. Clams. I got a bowl ($6), since it's only a buck more than a cup, and it was indeed chock-full of clams, in a rich, slightly briny broth. Yum. With us was a Massachusetts expatriate visiting from California, so we made sure he got the same, and he appeared to be a convert.
Starting out, the table shared a platter of fried calamari ($9). Since they were tentacle-free and the rings were a modest amount between a bed of lettuce and a mound of cherry pepper rings, they made me feel like a tourist. But they were tender and tasty enough, especially with their accompanying mild shrimp cocktail sauce.