In Newburyport, EnzoÂ offers authenticÂ Northern Italian cuisine inÂ a rustic setting to match.Â By Anna and David Kasabian
Here in downtown Newburyport, in what served as a leather mill a century ago, is Enzo, an architectural stew of high-ceilinged brick and beams, simply adorned in a sophisticated yet subdued palette. The large bar that fronts the room invites conversation and provides a cozy spot for a casual meal-and what a marvelous, fresh-tasting, lovingly made meal it was to be.
We began our meal (sitting at one of the 32 usually packed tables) with sauteed mushrooms with polenta, a recipe from the owner’s grandmother. One key to deliciousness is the Newburyport-grown organic mushrooms, which make this a deeply satisfying dish. Next, the braised heritage-breed Kurobuta pork belly, served with house-made pickles and plump, honey-baked cannelloni beans-a fabulous combination of sweet, sour, and umami. The smooth roasted tomato soup, made with caramelized tomatoes stewed with the rind of a good Parmigiano Reggiano, is mildly tart and totally refreshing.
For the first entree, the excellent Chicken Under a Brick, served with herb-infused stuffing and kale, is made with free-range chicken cooked in a skillet under a 20-pound weight. This ensures even cooking and a well-crisped skin. The second entree, homemade gnocchi with lobster and watercress, although tasty and featuring a generous portion of lobster, had too much sauce, while the gnocchi lacked the light texture that defines it.
For dessert, maple pudding, flavored with maple syrup that was reduced by half to max out the flavor, recalls the luxurious texture of a crÃ¨me brÃ»lee. We also tried the fried apple turnover, a tasty little nugget chock full of sweet apple, pear, and raisins and topped with a salted caramel sauce and a thick dollop of whipped cream.
Owners Dave and Mary Reilly’s mission is to introduce diners to authentic dishes from Northern Italy and, when necessary, adapt them to the ingredients available in New England. The result is unfussy, rustic cuisine with bold, clean flavors. While they are both refugees from the business world, at least Dave has the restaurant business in his bloodline: his long-retired grandmother lived in the household where he grew up, and shared her stories, recipes, and passion for food with the young Dave.
Mary, on the other hand, taught herself to cook and bake, which eventually led to a stint in catering. For her, this restaurant is about her deep love for food-and making sure she puts some of it on every plate.
Chef: Mary Reilly. Appetizers: Sauteed Mushrooms with Polenta ($11), Braised Pork Belly ($9). Soup: Roasted Tomato ($6). Entrees: Chicken Under a Brick, ($28), Gnocchi with Lobster & Watercress ($29). Dessert: Maple Pudding, ($9). Location: 50 Water Street, Newburyport, 978-462-1801, enzo-restaurant.com.