Take a look at the history of how The Cellar at Hightower came to be, and it's easy to see how New England clam chowder was served instead of the Manhattan version.
When Frank Hightower decided to open a restaurant, he hired iconic cookbook author and chef James Beard as a consultant. Beard happened to have employed young chef John Bennett at a restaurant in Connecticut while Bennett was a student at the Culinary Institute of America.
Beard, for whom the nation's most important culinary awards are named, once wrote “that rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder ... resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it.” On the James Beard Foundation website, you'll find his recipe with the following preface: James Beard considered this creamy New England-style chowder his “oldest love” — the first soup he ever ate. It can be made with Pacific Coast razor clams or the common littlenecks on the East Coast, and in a pinch, with a can of minced clams.
Here is the recipe made famous at The Cellar at Hightower restaurant, which owed a great debt to both Beard and Bennett.
NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER
As served at The Cellar at Hightower circa 1964.
8 cups canned or bottled clam broth or clam base and water
½ pound salt pork, rind removed, cut into small cubes
1 stick unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, small dice
1½ cups white flour
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves, whole
Large grind black pepper
3 cups canned chopped clams
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and salt, optional
• Discard the bay leaf and save the broth.
• Meanwhile, in a large heavy stock pot, brown salt pork until lightly browned. Remove salt pork and drain on paper towel. Set aside.
• Drain all but 4 tablespoons salt pork fat, leaving that in the pot.
• Add butter and let melt. Add onion and saute in the butter and salt pork fat until translucent but not brown. Stir in flour to make a thick roux. Cook roux until golden but not brown. It will have a nutty smell.
• Add clam broth and stir over medium heat with whisk until thick and creamy. Stir in thyme, black pepper. Then stir in half-and-half. Turn down heat to medium low.
• Add drained clams, potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes or so to allow the potatoes to finish cooking. Be careful about stirring the potatoes or they will break up.
• Add the heavy cream, Tabasco and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce. If too thick, add more half-and-half.
• Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
• Notes: I like to let it set awhile to marry the flavors. When cool, refrigerate in smaller containers. Will keep a week or so.
• Chef's note: When reheating you may need to add milk or half-and-half.
• Source: Chef John Bennett, Oklahoma City.