Everything near this stretch of industrial Wilmington looks like it's been abandoned or is about to be -- especially on a Saturday afternoon when the hum of the shipping industry has faded. It's easy to overlook the turnoff for the Chowder Barge; blink and you'll miss the fading "Barge Diner" sign. (Hit the railroad tracks and you've gone too far.)
Tucked away on an actual barge in Berth #200 is a floating oasis of chowder. Let's be clear: When I say chowder I don’t mean the gelatinous white paste that oozes out of a can, I mean the calorie-laden concoction that can come only from hours of preparation and plenty of butter, cream, potatoes and bacon. Oh, and clams. Lots and lots of clams. There's nothing perfunctory about the Barge's chowder. It's made fresh daily from locally caught seafood. Simple and hearty but redolent with the brine of fresh clams, it puts to shame most chowders dished out at much fancier, more expensive seafood restaurants. Order the classic deal, the Captain's Burger, and your cup of chowder comes with a hamburger and a side of beer-battered onion rings -- for only $7.50. (The menu also features American standards like sandwiches, eggs and bacon, chicken dinners and, predictably, plenty of deep-fried seafood.)
Compared with somewhere like the Redwood, a hipsterish nautical-themed bar that's working hard to look low-rent, the Chowder Barge (which I first heard about from Sergeant Chris Cognac, a.k.a. the Food Network's Hungry Detective) is a bona fide dive. This is the kind of moldering hole-in-the-wall where locals spend their afternoons -- and mornings and evenings -- lingering over Heinekens and smoking on the porch as it lists gently from side to side. Irony and asymmetrical haircuts haven't made it to the Wilmington docks. Both the food and the ambiance make it well worth stepping aboard.
The Chowder Barge: 611 N. Henry Ford Ave., Wilmington. (310) 830-7937
-- Elina Shatkin
Photo: Four views of the Chowder Barge in Wilmington. Credit: Elina Shatkin / Los Angeles Times.