Every town should have a restaurant like Newburyport’s 17 State Street Cafe?—a popular meeting place with two distinct personalities. Seven days a week, the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, serving up comfort staples like egg sandwiches, buttermilk pancakes, grilled cheese, and eight-ounce burgers. Four nights, it stays open for dinner, the menu heavy on Southern-style home cooking, often accompanied by live music.
The classic luncheonette vibe, with curved wooden booths, sconce lighting, parquet floors, and a long marble bar, works perfectly for both, and it comes by its nostalgia legitimately. The space housed Fowles Newsstand dating back to 1903. In the 1920s, a soda fountain and restaurant were added. Current owner Cathy Moulton took over the restaurant when it closed in 2012, and she is very aware of that history and its importance as a town gathering spot. The Plum Island native preserved much of the restaurant’s de?cor—right down to the original parquet flooring—and works hard to create an atmosphere where families feel right at home alongside old-time regulars, singles, and cozy couples.
Breakfast features a full range of baked goods, including breads, all made in-house. But the real prize is the oversized house-made English muffins that star in the 17 State egg sandwich, topped with a fried egg, grilled tomato, and American cheese. Crave something sweet for the morning meal? Try the cinnamon swirl pancake—a mash-up of a cinnamon roll and a pancake favored by the Phantom Gourmet.
The playful lunchtime menu offers up 17 different burgers, including several vegetarian options and one that is distinctly non-vegetarian: the Ooey Gooey burger, which packs a full pound of meat and three types of cheese topped with bacon and caramelized onions. For a more manageable meal, try the 17 State Street—a tasty half-pound of Angus ground beef topped with caramelized onions, saute?ed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and a piquant horse-radish mayonnaise, served on a brioche roll. The indecisive can choose the slider special—a miniature trio of any three burgers (except the Ooey Gooey).
Dinnertime is when chef Kip Dixon puts his bayou roots on display. The Mobile, Alabama, native’s Southern-inspired menu is the real deal, starting with the appetizer of Mason Jar Black Eye Peas. The dried peas are simmered until al dente in spices and chicken stock, deep-fried to order, served with pancetta, and dusted with a secret house seasoning. The result is slightly spicy and totally addictive, especially when enjoyed alongside a seasonal cocktail or one of the restaurant’s interesting craft beers—the waitstaff gladly offers samples of unfamiliar brews.
The crab cake appetizer could serve as a meal on its own—two generously sized patties packed with large chunks of jumbo lump crab, simply prepared and breaded with panko bread crumbs to let the crustacean shine. Sticking with the Southern theme for a main course, the texturally appealing Crawfish E?touffe?e packs some heat, though not overwhelmingly. Louisiana crawfish tail meat is gently saute?ed in butter with the trinity of New Orleans cooking (onion, celery, and bell pepper), and then finished with creole seasoning and fresh seafood stock. The result is a harmonious dish of distinct flavors, served over jasmine rice and topped with a house-made garlic toast baguette.
Save a lot of room for dessert, because in classic diner fashion, portions are huge. Gram Webster’s Indian Pudding is a Moulton family recipe—it was served at her family’s Newburyport ice cream stand for many years. The New Orleans Style Bread Pudding is straight out of the bayou—a dense slab of warm custardy goodness, topped with ice cream and an intense Jack Daniel’s praline sauce. 17statestreetcafe.com