A friend and I enjoyed a Saturday evening meal at Biggie’s Restaurant in Kingsport. In doing some pre-visit research, I discovered the restaurant specializes in seafood, particularly clams and other shellfish.
According to the restaurant’s website, Biggie’s Clam Bar was founded in 1946 by Joseph Yaccarino. The son of Italian immigrants, he performed in the 1930s as a comedian under the stage name “Biggie.” By 1941, he decided to place his fate with clams in Hoboken, N.J. He went corner to corner shucking raw clams from pails to tavern patrons. Later, he operated a pushcart, selling clams on the half shell for a nickel a piece. The interest in clams extended into a new generation when Joseph “Biggie” Yaccarino recruited his son Michael “Brother” Yaccarino into the business.
In 1946, father and son opened Biggie’s Clam Bar on Madison Street. This Biggie’s is still housed in the original red brick building and has since become a Hoboken institution, right along with Frank Sinatra and baseball. In 1996, Biggie’s was handed to the third generation of family members and underwent an expansion to its current size.
It also expanded, opening restaurants in other locations. A second restaurant opened in 2010 in Carlstadt, N.J., run by the fourth generation of the family. Perhaps surprisingly, Biggie’s traveled south to find its next home. Biggie’s opened in Kingsport in October 2011. The Kingsport restaurant is owned and operated by Robert and Theresa Ranuro. The location features a full bar, 20 draft beers, an extensive wine selection and 19 big-screen televisions, as well as a private party room.
Diners entering the restaurant are welcomed by two mannequins sitting on a bench at the entranceway and holding a sign that says, “Welcome to Biggies.” A manager greeted us and showed us to a spacious, comfortable booth. Seating is also available at tables or in the bar area, as well as on a large, outdoor patio while warm weather lingers.
Chairs and booths are upholstered with black vinyl. The walls are painted in warm hues of red and gold ochre with brick half-wall facades. Framed family photographs from the early days of Biggie’s in New Jersey are displayed on the walls.
The service during our visit, from start to finish, ranked as exceptional. In addition to our server, the manager on duty paid a couple of visits to make sure we had everything we needed. They also offered some information about the history of Biggie’s and took pains to offer some advice on various menu selections.
We started with appetizers, which included such options as different variations on Calamari, Tuna Tacos, Crab Cake, Loaded Potato Wedges and Spinach Artichoke Dip. Options are also available from the raw bar, including Clams on the Half Shell, available by the half-dozen or dozen, as well as Oysters on the Half Shell, Oysters Rockefeller, Shrimp Cocktail, Roasted or Steamed Clams and Freshly Shucked Fried Clams.
We chose to try an order of the Thai Chili Calamari. We also ordered two Oysters Rockefeller to provide each of us with a sampling of this traditional favorite.
The calamari featured lightly battered squid fried to a golden-brown and tossed with a homemade sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce. The dish, which had been recommended by our server, didn’t disappoint.
The Oysters Rockefeller, served with a piece of garlic toast, also impressed. These morsels are freshly shucked and topped with a blend creamy horseradish spinach and three different cheeses before being broiled.
The restaurant did a great job of pacing the courses, and we had plenty of time to enjoy these appetizers before the arrival of the entrees. Choosing an entree meant looking over an extensive listing of steaks, chicken, fish and other seafood. There’s also burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads on the menu.
I was tempted by the six-ounce Filet Mignon, as well as by the Oyster Po’Boy, Rigatoni Arrabiata, Shrimp and Grits, Crab Cake Sandwich, Linguini with Clam Sauce and Seafood with a Lobster Cream Sauce.
After some consideration, I ordered the Parmesan Crusted Flounder, which consists of a flounder filet encrusted with panko and parmesan, that is then sauteed and topped with lemon butter. I paired my entree with a House Salad and Sauteed Broccoli Rabe. The latter is a green cruciferous vegetable, with edible leaves, buds and stems. The buds somewhat resemble broccoli, but do not form a large head.
My friend ordered the Seafood Fra Diavolo, although he considered such options as Teriyaki Salmon and the Fried Shrimp Platter.
The Seafood Fra Diavolo is a medley of shrimp, mussels, scallops, calamari and clams tossed in a spicy garlic tomato broth and served over linguini. He paired his pasta dish with a Caesar Salad.
The Caesar was a traditional version with shaved parmesan cheese, large croutons and a tangy Caesar dressing. My House Salad consisted of mixed greens, cucumbers, cherry tomato halves and shredded cheese with a balsamic dressing.
The main dishes pleased both of us. The mild, flaky flounder filet tasted great with its coating of bread crumbs and parmesan. The lemon butter also lent some extra delicate flavor to this tasty fish.
I also loved the pasta/shellfish dish ordered by my friend, who provided me a couple of tastes of this entree. The sauce was seasoned perfectly, and all the shellfish were perfectly prepared. The mussels and clams were served in their shells.
We also split a dessert at the end of the meal. Our servers brought out a tray to showcase some of the sweet options available for concluding our visit. These included Pecan Pie, Snicker Pie, Lemon-Blueberry Mascarpone Cake, New York Cheesecake and Reese’s Pie. We chose the Reese’s Pie, which featured a chocolate crust holding a peanut-butter mousse with chunks of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, all topped with peanuts and a dollop of whipped cream. It was a rich dessert, but it wasn’t too much when shared among two diners.
We found Biggie’s a delightful restaurant, bound to please fans of seafood and shellfish. We left still wanting to try plenty of the items on the varied menu. Future visits seem assured. The restaurant definitely meets a demand for creative and delicious seafood entrees. If you go, let them know they came highly recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Biggie’s Restaurant, Raw Bar and Tavern, 417 W. Stone Drive, Kingsport. 765-9633. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight. Entrees range from $8-$25.95. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Full service bar available. Limited delivery available. Catering available.