There are few places around that would proudly present hot dog cassoulet on the same menu as a perfectly prepared Sazerac. Or mac and cheese, enriched with a touch of Velveeta, alongside a bubbly Starlite cocktail, combining top-shelf Privateer Rum, Parfait Amour, and sparkling wine. But that may be exactly what this era demands—indulgent comfort food and a good stiff drink.
The Cartel Café is made with espresso-infused tequila, mezcal, campari, and grapefruit
The whole retro vibe at the new Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Amesbury is pure escapism—like walking into a warm hug. A sassy vintage refrigerator across from the open kitchen shares messages using preschool-style magnetic alphabet letters, old-school rock music plays over the sound system, and the staff seems genuinely happy to be there. The menu doesn’t demand a lot of work either. It’s just fun, delicious, and gently priced, offering the expected hot dogs, burgers, and fried chicken—no kale or crudo anywhere in sight.
But hidden inside that relatively small menu is a lot of hard work. Everything is house-made, subtly seasonal, and locally sourced, but doesn’t brag. The ground beef patties are formed in-house from local beef, and the daily blue plate special could be just about anything that suits the chef’s whim—say, soy-glazed goat ribs (yes, goat ribs) or hard-shell tuna tacos.
ON THE MENU
Vidalia Collard Dip, $12
Tater Tots, $8
Mac & Cheese, $10
Dog of the Day, market price
Duck Confit, $18
Cartel Café, $11
Southern Corn Fritters, $5
At $18, the duck confit is the most expensive thing on the regular menu, and it’s worth every penny—prep is a three-day affair. Served on a bed of crisp, light sweet potato spaetzle topped with a fried egg and pickled cranberries, it’s fancy and homey at the same time.
Even the tiny crisp-yet-pillowy tater tots are a sheer labor of love, involving 10 different steps, starting with the peeling of about 50 pounds of potatoes on a busy Saturday night. So respect and savor each one—perhaps with a craft cocktail.
Vidalia collard dip
Many of the drinks, like the Rockin’ Chair, a black tea-infused bourbon concoction, are familiar from the group’s other establishments, including The Paddle Inn in Newburyport and a sister Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville. But bar manager Drew Hart, formerly of Brine Oyster Bar in Newburyport, is starting to put his stamp on the menu as well. Fans of bitter flavors and/or tequila won’t be disappointed with the Cartel Café, made with espresso-infused tequila, mezcal, Campari, and grapefruit. In the mood for a classic? Nucky’s List, a clever nod to the Steve Buscemi character in Boardwalk Empire, features old-school cocktails prepared exactly as they should be. Ask for a recommendation to pair with the Vidalia collard dip, a Southern-style take on spinach dip that is spiked with smoked Gouda and served with corn tortillas.
Hot dog special of the day
The bar also features 24 beers on tap—so there will always be a perfect pairing for the rotating hot dog of the day, which could be anything from that cassoulet (slow-braised hot dog pieces with bacon lardons and white beans) to hot dog piccata, which is rolled out, pounded, and finished with a lemon, garlic, caper butter sauce.
Owner and executive chef Suzi Maitland
Dessert offerings include a rotating pie of the day, but we suggest a double order of the southern corn fritters from the appetizer menu. Dusted with powdered sugar and served with a lavender-honey dipping sauce, they can easily pair with one last drink.
Southern corn fritters
In addition to long tables, which were hewn from old bowling alley lanes, the back room holds half a dozen arcade games, from Ms. PacMan to a Guardians of the Galaxy pinball machine, and is warmed by a cozy fireplace. A TV screen above the mantel shows sporting events, but otherwise the real world is far away. Hole up back there with a stack of quarters and a tall cocktail—the staff will understand.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Amesbury
37 Main Street, Amesbury, 978-792-5746
Owners: Suzi Maitland, who also serves as executive chef, Josh Childs, and Beau Sturm