It took a Southerner to reimagine what coastal cuisine could be on the North Shore. While our area is awash in clam chowder and lobster rolls, Chef Suzi Maitland grew up along the Florida-Georgia border, with a very different experience of seaside staples. So at Paddle Inn, the fourth restaurant that Maitland has opened with partners Beau Sturm and Josh Childs, she brings a warm breeze into the former Loretta’s space, using local ingredients to hopscotch around the globe for an international lineup of coastal favorites.
Start with ceviche—the restaurant offers a daily preparation of the South American dish of raw fish gently “cooked” by an acidic marinade, drawing inspiration from whatever is fresh and local. A recent version featured local fluke lightly dressed with pickled quince, which gave the fish a delicate lingering floral palate and a surprising tropical flair. For something more decadent, try the crab rangoons—Maitland’s mother made them for her when she was small, inciting a lifelong love of the crispy, creamy-sweet noshes. But banish from your mind any picture of the classic pu-pu platter fare, flavored with fake crab—these big pillows of fried dough are stuffed with a mixture of real Maine crabmeat and cream cheese, with a dipping sauce made from local apples and pears.
The rangoons are an ideal bar snack and a perfect accompaniment to one of the twisted tiki-style cocktails dreamed up by mixologists Sturm and Childs. Try the Rockin’ Chair, blending black tea-infused bourbon with ginger and lemon for a fresh, fun-yet-grown-up libation.
Cocktails would also pair well with the tasty coconut beef skewers, made meltingly tender by using a jaccard machine to poke tiny holes in the meat, which also increases absorption of the flavorful marinade. Cocktails, along with “Locals Only” beer taps featuring North Shore brews and a thoughtful bottle and wine list, are front and center—the 14-seat riveted zinc bar runs the length of the room, accounting for nearly half the seats in the cozy space, which is kitted out with a smattering of two-top and four-top tables as well. The whole effect, from the custom bar shelving designed to resemble skateboard decks and surfboard racks to the walls hung with light-boxed photos of beach scenes, creates a convivial surfy vibe. Even the TV is devoted to surf-related entertainment, unless a patron requests a local sporting event.
The sunny entrees also draw from that ?round-the-world coastal vibe. For a light, fresh, and thoroughly modern seafood dish, try the seafood tagine—a generous array of shrimp, fresh fish (on a recent night, it was Atlantic pollock), and tender calamari, served with fluffy couscous and an African-spiced cauliflower-carrot mix redolent of saffron, ginger, and turmeric. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the tea-smoked ribs are as intense as the tagine is delicate, an homage to Maitland’s Southern heritage. The generous five-rib portions are smoked for two to three hours, then glazed with maple syrup right before serving for a crispy coating. The dish is piled with sides of Hoppin’ John Salad—a take on the classic low country black-eyed pea dish—along with mustard slaw with a serious kick and hush puppies.
It’s hard not to devour every bite, but save room for dessert. The choco tacos—a delicious house-made version of the frozen novelty—start with a tuile cookie redolent of nutmeg and allspice bent into a tiny taco shape, filled with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with luscious ganache, and then sprinkled with crushed chocolate chip cookies. Ward off a cold headache with an off-menu specialty: the Paddle Inn Irish Coffee. Based on famous mixologist Dale DeGroff’s recipe and served in a lovely cut-crystal goblet, it’s a perfect way to steel yourself for the early spring weather that awaits outside Paddle Inn’s beachy bubble.
The Paddle Inn
27 State St., Newburyport