Jackson Tavern, the latest concept from Metzger Family Restaurants, is scheduled to open this week at 2900 N. Swan Road in Plaza Palomino. It draws its inspiration from the coastal towns of New England, and its menu features creative twists on regional classics from Rhode Island to Maine.

But make no mistake about it. At Jackson Tavern, the clam is king.

“Clams are the quintessential Rhode Island thing,” said Brian Metzger of Metzger Family Restaurants, which owns and operates Jackson Tavern. “I remember eating clams as a kid growing up in Rhode Island, and they’ve always been my favorite food. I knew that if this menu didn’t represent the clam in a big way, it just wouldn’t be authentic with what we’re trying to do.”

The clam makes an appearance on six of the tavern’s menu items, from snacks to supper and seemingly everywhere in between. But it’s the clam cake that holds a special place in Metzger’s heart.

“My twin brother and I first started eating clam cakes at age six, when we spent the summer hanging around the Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick,” he recalled. “My grandparents took us there every summer, and clam cakes were always such an important part of that experience.”

Jackson Tavern’s ode to this Metzger memory is a plate of big bite-sized clam fritters served with a horseradish tartar sauce, a “true taste of Rhode Island,” he promises.  

In addition to the cakes, Jackson Tavern showcases the clam in pretzel-crusted strips with a warm red sauce and stout mustard; house made linguine and clams with parsley, white wine and bread crumbs; a Narragansett stew with clams, mussels, fresh fish, kale, kidney beans, chorizo and Old Bay aioli; and a cast-iron iron white clam pizza with bacon, sautéed kale, onion, Fresno chile and cheese.

What’s a tavern without clam chowder? Not really a tavern at all, Metzger says, and his “say chowda” is super creamy with bacon lardon and seasoned soda crackers.

Metzger’s plans also call for a traditional New England clam boil, but patrons will have to exercise some patience until spring. That is when he expects to open his front patio, which he calls the “front dock,” with red checkerboard table tops “just waiting for us to drop a pot of clams on!”

With more than 2,000 varieties of clams to choose from, Metzger’s selection for his inaugural tavern menu is the little neck, a hard clam common throughout New England and down the eastern seaboard.

“The little neck clam is on the sweeter side, and its flavor works so beautifully with all of these dishes,” he said. “It has that ocean taste that we just love.”

In addition to the clam dishes, Jackson Tavern features other New England staples, including oysters on the half shell with frozen garnish, and a buttered lobster roll with creamy coleslaw and celery salt.

Landlubbers will surely find favor with the menu as well, with selections ranging from house-smoked pork ribs with skillet johnny cakes to the “Biggie,” a three-patty burger behemoth with braised barbecue pork and melted muenster cheese.

The new restaurant will open its doors at 5:00 pm on Monday, December 15. After opening day, it will serve lunch, dinner and a special evening tavern menu seven days a week.

I love clams, and if Jackson Tavern is the Clam Capital of Pima County, I may be in the running for mayor.

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM. Disclosure: Metzger Family Restaurants is a client of Russell’s public relations agency.

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