Since 1915—almost 100 years—the Liberal Club has been a part of Fall River. According to it's Web site, the club has over 300 members. Today, the club's building holds two banquet halls, a restaurant and a bar. I remember attending a couple of bridal showers and wedding receptions here as a kid in the eighties.
Slightly buried in a residential neighborhood on the eastern edge of Cook pond, the club has plenty of its own parking and probably too many entrances into the building. On this visit, we entered the restaurant through the bar, which would be better described as a beer hall with lots of tables and plenty of people eating and having a beer. The bar smelled like is serves and spills lots of beer, so I would suggest walking into the dining room. The décor was minimal. It was all very casual, like jeans-and-t-shirt casual with booths filling most of the space, and Red Sox/Yankee memorabilia filling most of the walls. The atmosphere was friendly and we were greeted warmly and quickly by our server. The menu was old-fashioned New England, and didn't have as many Portuguese dishes as it once had, but there were still some to choose from—favorites like chouriço and chips, anything Mozambique and even smelts (small fried fish), and the Azorean Portuguese favorite, chicharros (mackerel).
Steamed Little Neck Clams
My friend and I shared an appetizer, little neck clams. This is pretty much a staple in any restaurant serving traditional Portuguese food, and it's pretty much a staple in my diet. I never get bored with them and I've rarely come across poorly prepared little neck clams. Served with a garlic, parsley (sometimes cilantro) and white wine broth, the clams were briny, bright and sweet. The broth was great soaked up with pieces of Portuguese bread. The chopped scallions were a nice, simple addition that made it all a little sweeter and aromatic.
I love meals that make you work for it. Cracking through shells to get to luscious crab or lobster meat, peeling shrimp, working though a set of baby back ribs—and pulling and dunking clams in a clam boil broth. The Liberal Club is the first place I've seen in a long time with clam boil on the menu, so I had to have it. Clam boils were a favorite summertime weekend meal at our house in Fall River. I love the potatoes, the chouriço, the sausages, the kielbasa, the corn on the cob and steamer clams. The Liberal Clubs version had all these ingredients, except the kielbasa.
The ample dish came to the table steaming hot and well seasoned. The corn on the cob was fresh and super sweet almost like a dessert. The hot dogs and sausages were good. The red bliss potatoes were a bit mealy, however. In a clam boil I prefer Yukon gold, which I think isa sweeter potato and holds up better when boiled. The clams were really tasty, but unfortunately, were not cleaned well at all. Normally, with any clam you need to leave them in water for some time so that they expel sand and grit that they may have inside through the normal filtering process they have. Unlike little neck clams, steamers have a tough skin around the opening of the shell and their necks that you need to remove. This skin is fairly tough, and is often also a bit dirty. Considering both these things, the steamers in my clam boil were pretty gritty and left the broth in my dish very sooty and even cloudy. Even dunking the clam in the broth bath numerous times was not enough to remove the sandy dirt in the neck. Though I could taste that the clams were delicious, it was terribly off putting seeing, feeling and tasting the sandy dirt in my mouth.
Baked Stuffed Scallops
There's a lot of seafood on the menu at the Liberal Club. One of the more traditional preparations for seafood in New England is to bake the seafood in the oven topped with a heavy, buttery bread crumb stuffing. My friend had the baked stuffed scallops. These were the larger sea scallops, which are a little less sweet than the smaller bay scallops. The dish was served with your choice of soup or salad, and you choice of sides, with my friend opting for mashed potatoes with a KFC-like brown gravy and some green beans.
For a business to last as long as The Liberal Club, you know it has to have a decent number of fans that regularly visit and keep the business going. My latest visit was a bit disappointing and I'm not sure there enough there to bring me back, unless someone else I know holds their wedding reception there.
20 Star Street
Fall River MA 02724