Not Your Average Grill Next Door


It’s the height of summer and outdoor entertaining has been in full swing for some time now with graduation celebrations, Fourth of July festivities, beach parties and family reunions.

And right about now the thought of yet another burger, sausage or even slapping a steak on the old grill frankly isn’t that exciting for us.

It’s hot. We’re bored. And we need something fresh, something just a little bit different to liven up what remains of our alfresco summer. And a new condiment just won’t do.

So we turn to a trio of top chefs and taste purveyors at some of Connecticut’s leading restaurants, and asked them how to elevate the menu and make it a grill of our dreams.


Chris Sheehan, Max Downtown, Hartford

“My favorite summer ingredient is clams,” says Chris Sheehan, who has helped create the restaurant’s new menu since it reopened after renovations last fall. “There’s nothing like freshly harvested, local clams. That’s something people wouldn’t expect to put on the grill. Plus, it can be both a great appetizer or you can serve it with summer vegetables as the main dish.”

For Sheehan, it’s about the taste of the ocean’s bounty during the summer months when the clams are abundant, fresh and sweet. Prepared in a casual, rustic manner, it’s a low-maintenance meal. “You impress people with the simplicity of the dish and the amazingness of the fresh grilled clams. They don’t need a ton of help.”

Grilled clams in charred lemon butter with summer vegetables and herbs

Grill about two dozen clams on medium-high heat (not high because the shells can crack), along with a lemon cut lengthwise. At the same time, place a sheet pan on half the grill with six cloves of thinly sliced garlic and butter. As the clams open, place them on the sheet and combine with the mixture, adding lots of your favorite garden herbs. Squeeze the charred lemon over the clams, which are fully cooked once opened, before serving.

For an entrée, use summer vegetables such as shaved zucchini, heirloom tomatoes, grilled onions and fresh greens, “and serve it like a warm salad.” A variable would be to mix in pre-grilled sausage “because clams go so well with pork,” Sheehan says. Oysters can be substituted in the dish, but be sure to pre-open them, add lemon garlic butter, and place the shell back on top before adding them to a lower-temperature grill. “The oysters cook much faster than the clams because they have a thinner, more brittle shell,” says Sheehan, who recommends cooking them for only a couple of minutes, periodically removing the top shells to check on their progress.