Rinse clams real well under running water. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Allow them to soak in the water for 20 minutes to rid them of any sand and grit. Place in a medium size pot with a half cup of water, the smashed garlic and the thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, cover and cook until clams open. Remove the clams from the shell and strain the clam broth through a fine mesh strainer leaving any sand and grit behind. Remove the clams from the shell, chop and set aside.
Heat a wide bottom pan over medium heat. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until bacon begins to get crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and discard the fat. Return to the heat with the leeks, celery and butter and cook over medium heat until the vegetables soften. Add the reserved clam broth, potatoes, milk, cream and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover, turn the heat to low and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the chopped clams and garnish with the chopped chives.
Enjoy with a glass of Cakebread Cellars Cuttings Wharf Chardonnay.