NEWBURYPORT- This is the kind of restaurant we like to call a triple threat: a place that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and does a fantastic job with all three. Despite its rather plain name, there’s nothing ordinary about 17 State Street Cafe.
Located in downtown Newburyport, 17 State Street Cafe is housed inside an historic old building that was a cigar shop and news stand for decades. The only reading material these days is the menu, but just about everything else remains the same.
“This is all original,” said owner Cathy Moulton. “The tile and the paneling, the booths, they’ve been here forever. There’s so much history here.”
Moulton is part of that history. She grew up on Plum Island, went to Newburyport High School, and her parents and grandparents both owned business in town. So for her, opening this place was a natural fit.
“I’m rooted here, so when I was offered the opportunity to come to this location, it felt like I was coming home.”
And good home-style cooking is what this place is all about.
“Basic but a lot of good flavors. Comfort foods with a twist,” Cathy calls it.
At breakfast, plenty of dishes have a creative spin, like the Cinnamon Swirl Pancakes, which are part pancake, part cinnamon bun.
“I make a concoction of cinnamon, brown sugar, butter; dribble it onto the pancake like a swirl. The pancake flips to cook on the other side, and all of those flavors caramelize, and it just makes it sweet and crunchy,” she described. “We drizzle it with some icing, and you just look at it and it’s like, ‘oh my god, I just want to get into that.'”
For a manly meal, Cathy recommends something called Dave’s Hot Mess Home Fries, a big bowl of breakfast potatoes, topped with peppers, onions, bacon and melted cheese.
“The guys love it. It’s a meal, and it looks great; it tastes great. I couldn’t eat it; it’s too much food for me.”
But no matter what you order, you definitely need to leave room for 17 State Street’s big beautiful English Muffins. They’re made from scratch, and nothing like what you find at the supermarket.
“You have to shrink the dough, and you cut it and it rests, and then it comes down stairs and goes onto the flat top, and is cooked on the flat top,” said Cathy. “This is real food, a real English Muffin.”
They’re great on their own, and even better as the base for an excellent egg sandwich.
“It’s layered with the fried egg, and then you’ve got a nice grilled tomato on top of it, and you’ve got cheese that’s gooey. We have that nice thick bacon and then you’ve got this fresh, homemade English Muffin that has some substance to it. It’s something nice to bite into.”
Lunch here is all about burgers, and since the place is named 17 State Street Café, Cathy came up with a menu of 17 specialty burgers all made with fresh, never frozen, half-pound Angus patties.
“To me this is an old fashioned burger that we used to get as kids. It’s not a McDonald’s burger. It’s not these four ounce patties that you get. It’s a meal.”
Of all the options, the one that really stands out is a beefy behemoth named The Ooey Gooey.
“That is two eight ounce patties with three different cheeses, with the bacon, with the honey jalapeno barbecue sauce, and caramelized onions. It’s a lot,” said Cathy.
True to its name, this burger is very messy, but totally worth it.
“It’s gooey, and then you’ve got that barbecue sauce, and that just runs, and it’s messy. You’re not gonna do it with a knife and a fork. It’s everything a burger should be.”
During the day, 17 State Street showcases all kinds of comfort food favorites, but at dinner, Cathy turns the kitchen over to Chef Kip Dixon, who serves up dishes with the classic Southern flavors he was raised on.
“I grew up on the Bayou down in Mobile Alabama, and that’s where it all started,” said Dixon. “The food that I do is based on 100 year old recipes, you know, traditional, very traditional things.”
So there are Crab and Crawfish Cakes, slow cooked Pork Ribs, and real-deal Gumbo made with whatever’s fresh.
“Back in New Orleans it would be whatever the neighbors had, they’d bring it over and it would be like a one pot meal, you know. And it’s got a little kick to it, a little Andouille sausage, a little shrimp, maybe chicken this week, maybe oysters in the next one.”
But of all the Southern staples, nothing beats Kip’s Fried Chicken, served with braised collard greens, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and a Tasso ham gravy. It’s a dish Cathy craves.
“I like a good Southern fried chicken. I won’t order it just anywhere,” she said. “His is light, fresh. It is moist; It’s crisp; It’s an incredible flavor.”
“She won’t get anything else, that’s it,” Chef Kip confirmed.
There’s a lot that’s old fashioned about this restaurant, from the care that goes into the cooking to the neighborly vibe in the dining room. For Cathy and her loyal customers, it just feels like home.
“Great place to still get local food, cooked by local people, with local owners, and make you wanting to come back,” one customer told us.
“I grew up here, I know people here. There’s a thread here for me,” said Cathy. “I belong here.”
You can find 17 State Street at – where else – 17 State Street in Newburyport or online at 17statestreetcafe.com.
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