It’s hard to resist deep-fried bacon. The Chicharron—an appetizer of slow-braised pork belly, deep-fried to order and dusted with a sweet and spicy blend—fairly jumps out from the appetizer menu at Metzy’s Cantina, the brick-and-mortar outpost of Erik Metzdorf’s popular food truck. Paired with one of the hyper-local beers on tap, it is the perfect appetizer to welcome fall, when it feels okay to indulge a bit.
Indulgent dishes that are also light and fresh are hallmarks of the menu at Metzy’s, which serves generous portions of modern-style Mexican food, seasoned and sauced deftly by Johnson and Wales graduate (and former owner of Mad Martha’s Café on Plum Island) Brad DeLibero. His signature topping, a chipotle cream sauce, is a mix of puréed chipotle peppers and sour cream, brightened with fresh lime juice and cilantro, that adds smoke and heat to everything from Sweet Potato Black Bean Hush Puppies to tender steak tacos.
The steak tacos have been a hit since Metzdorf opened his food truck in 2014. The combination of carefully prepared strips of medium-rare carne asada topped with jack cheese, golden onion rings, and the chipotle cream sauce is worth unhinging your jaw to get a bite of everything all at once—the flavors come together as much more than the sum of their fresh parts.
Like the tacos, many of the dishes will be pleasantly familiar to fans of Metzy’s truck, but the new space offers the ability to amp up many offerings, as well as mix in a variety of specials. Check the specials board for the slate of hearty soups, like the thick, satisfyingly spicy Sweet Potato Chorizo. Long a favorite of the food truck patrons, it incorporates browned chorizo pureed with stock and sweet potatoes. It is likely to appear regularly through the fall, with more offerings, like a recent special of Spicy Lobster & Corn Chowder, rotating in. With a new smoker in the house, DeLibero also plans to experiment with a wide variety of house-smoked peppers, as well as occasional offerings like smoked beef tacos or smoked pork butt.
While Mexican food is often aggressively seasoned, the cantina offers a number of tips on how to “down-spice”—including just leaving off the chipotle cream sauce or the habanero salsa. Those who are sensitive to spice also can’t go wrong with the Avocado Lime Salad, topped with a refreshing cilantro-lime dressing and spears of battered, fried mango, which give a sweet-sour balance to the dish. Top it with the panko-crusted cod for a light meal. Or try the cod in the tasty Fish Burrito, stuffed with black beans, guacamole, and shredded cabbage.
The cantina’s urban industrial chic vibe is hard-won—and completely authentic. It took Metzdorf months of patient phone calls and negotiations with myriad government officials to bring his restaurant—housed in the former abandoned Newburyport train depot—to fruition, but the crowds packing tables for lunch and dinner show that his perseverance paid off. The exposed brick, soaring ceilings, and steel girders, complemented by corrugated steel framing the kitchen, lend an urban feel to the space, mixing with the fresh, modern take on Mexican food to feel totally on trend.
The Cantina isn’t licensed for hard liquor, but it offers a thoughtful beer menu dominated by offerings from NBPT Brewing Co. and Riverwalk, both just a stone’s throw away, as well as some Mexican brews. Wine is also available, as well as Juaritos sodas and cane sugar–sweetened Coca-Cola imported from Mexico. But don’t ask for American-style Coke or Pepsi—no mass-market sodas, or anything with high fructose corn syrup, are welcome in Metzdorf’s cooler.
What will be welcome soon is ice cream, to complement a planned dessert of churros arriving this fall. In the meantime, just enjoy some of those Chicharrones and another beer.
Sweet Potato/Chorizo Soup $4.50/cup, $8/bowl
Avocado Lime Salad $9
Steak Taco $5.75
Fish Burrito $9.50
5 Boston Way, Newburyport