Right now, we're just--just--on the cusp of summer, and, raining and low-60s, its still nice to have a hot soup at night; regardless, I eat this all year round, nostalgic for the coast and sick of store bought stuff that is really just potato soup. If you're serving quite a few people, it can stretch--I serve this in my coffee mugs with some toasted slices of baguette. By all means grate some gruyere on the bread pieces before popping them in the broiler. Is this the most traditional chowdah? No. I happen to love using homemade guanciale in this soup for its piggyness, not the traditional salt pork and not the definitely-not-traditional bacon. But feel free to use any of the above (I'd sooner use salt pork).
Do not use canned clams!! They lack the texture of "real" clams (they are just stringy bits and utterly lacking structural integrity). You shouldn't have to guess whether you have a clam in your spoon or not. This is a pretty "peasant" dish in terms of technique; just picture yourself in Salem in The Scarlet Letter, and chop how you think they'd chop.