It’s no secret that places like Portsmouth, N.H., and Portland and Kittery, Maine, are foodie destinations. Now Amesbury is working its way up the list of north-of-Boston, must-visit restaurant hot spots.
Suzi Maitland, executive chef and owner of Trina’s Starlite Lounge, moved to Amesbury about two years ago, around the time she opened the Paddle Inn in Newburyport with Josh Childs and Beau Sturm. The partners also own Parlor Sports in Somerville and Audubon Boston. The chef says it was the historic downtown and sense that the city was growing that drew her in. “Before you had Boston, and then you had Portsmouth, and then you had Portland, and those were the cities. That was where all the food was, and now all these places are kind of filling in. You could literally do a tour up the coast, the whole way, and be super happy.”
But Amesbury, with its historic mill buildings, Victorian architecture, and charming town center, holds a special appeal to the chef, “There is the best coffee shop on the corner, Market Square Bakehouse. They have pastries and sandwiches, the best coffee; they are using Counter Culture, which is one of my favorites. And everything they do is just spot on, it has that nice warm little feeling.”
After you’ve indulged in the sweet, flaky wonder that is the house-made kouign amann and a frothy cappuccino, she recommends lunch at The Coop Rotisserie. “The chef, Elvis [Jimenez-Chavez], does all these fun arepas, it’s completely different,” she says of the spot, which features specials like fish tacos and pineapple rum bread pudding on its Caribbean-influenced menu.
And of course, Maitland would love to have you in for dinner at Trina’s, for fried chicken and blue plate specials. She says the backbone of the menu and cocktail list will be the same as at the Somerville location, with Joey Guarino (formerly of Cambridge’s Blue Room and Swampscott’s Red Rock Bistro) serving as chef de cuisine, and Drew Hart (formerly of Brine Oyster Bar) as bar manager. But Maitland would also like you to visit Ristorante Molise, “This amazing Italian woman does the old Italian you would want, the veal picattas and saltimboccas and pastas.”
The chef says her restaurants are spreading north right alongside customers. “I see so many familiar faces from Starlite in Somerville that have moved up here to buy a house and raise a family. And it’s kind of cool. They are like, ‘We are so excited you are here,’ and we are like, ‘We are excited to be here, too!’ ”
Christina Barbieri of Wolf Meadow Farm — an Italian-style cheesemaking facility that uses local milk — says Amesbury has always been a city of makers. Barbieri’s partner, cheesemaker Luca Mignogna, was drawn to its history as a home for artisans. As their cheese-making classes have become popular, and their fresh mozzarella and scamorza appear on restaurant menus up and down the coast, word of Wolf Meadow has spread outside of Amesbury. “We’ve become kind of a destination, so there are people that come from all over to visit, and then we do have quite a few locals as well.”
But Barbieri acknowledges the challenges that come with producing a high-end food product outside of a major city. She is also sensitive to the fact that their labor-intensive product is cost-prohibitive for many residents, “That was really difficult for us — in terms of, everything — because we want to make great cheese, but we want to find a way to make it so everyone can have it.” In an effort to make their products more accessible, Wolf Meadow does accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ) cards at their retail store and at farmers’ markets, and she hopes that her customers also support other small businesses.
“In order to put it all together, people need to shop local,” she says. She has her own recommendations for doing just that. “Brewery Silvaticus just opened and we like to say they are as crazy about beer the way we are crazy about cheese.” She’s also effusive about Hedgehog Designs, which repurposes wine and whiskey barrels into cutting boards, votive candle holders, jewelry, and more. “It’s always been an artisan community, but it’s very exciting that more and more people are looking at the food side especially.”
Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.