Arepas are a sheer delight. These griddle cakes made from cornmeal are a staple as common as bread in Venezuela and Colombia, but they don’t turn up on menus nearly as often as they should on the North Shore. So when you see them on the menu at the Coop Rotisserie in Amesbury, do yourself a favor and order them. Gluten-free and flavorful, they are airy and lightly fried, sandwiching chicken, cheese, and avocado. Served with a nicely dressed side salad, they make a perfect light meal, or are fun to share with a friend.
The small menu at the Coop is, as the name implies, full of chicken options, perked up with a gentle influence from Latin American cuisine. Chef Elvis Jimenez-Chavez was born in the Dominican Republic to a military family. As a result, he grew up all over the world, sampling everything from foie gras to oysters. With a background in fine dining honed from his youth through a restaurant career launched initially as a way to put himself through law school, Jimenez-Chavez brings his Caribbean heritage together with international culinary chops to make soulful lunch and dinner options that don’t break the bank.
Start with the arepas, or perhaps with the Aguadito de Pollo, a chicken soup with a deep, rich bone stock that is simmered overnight, enhanced by a sweet-sour flavor from lime and layers of cilantro, from coriander seeds to fresh.
The menu offers a wide variety of familiar options, like soft corn tacos filled with chicken or crispy cod, and overstuffed burritos, any of which makes a worthy meal. But the star of the show is the Caribbean style rotisserie chicken, offered in either a quarter or half size.
The poultry rests for 32 to 48 hours in a marinade that is heavy with garlic and Seville oranges and then cooked on a rotating spit that ensures the meat stays juicy and tender through and through. It’s not spicy, but rather intensely flavorful. If you’re a heat-seeker, order the peppadew sauce or the salsa de chiles mixtos on the side. For a gentler accompaniment, check out the crema fresca. Chicken dishes come with two sides—do not miss the black beans, gently simmered with garlic, onions, and oregano and finished with a bright sofrito, the Latin American staple made from an aromatic puree of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onions, and garlic. The yucca fries are worth the dollar upcharge—crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside.
To continue exploring the varied world of South American griddle cakes, try the Salvadorian Pupusas. Shaped like a pita, but made with corn flour, they are a hearty meal filled with pork chicharron (fried pork rinds), refried beans, and crumbles of Oaxaca cheese—a mozzarella-like Mexican string cheese. Topped with salsa roja and a Salvadoran pickled cabbage dish known as curtido, they’re authentic and comforting all at once.
Despite the restaurant’s chicken-centric name, vegetarians are well looked after. Just about every dish, from the Papa Rellenas—stuffed lightly breaded potato croquettes—to the burritos, offers a vegetable option. And both the black beans and pinto beans are vegetarian as well.
The restaurant also has a nice selection of beers, from local favorites like Riverwalk, Newburyport Brewing, and Bantam Cider to several Mexican brews and even Murphy’s and Guinness.
The Coop is tiny—just seven tables and a long bar facing the street—and does not take reservations, so prepare for a wait during prime dining hours. But rest assured, it’s worth it.