The cities in Massachusetts that run along or near the Merrimack River in the Merrimack Valley tend to get a good amount of notice for their dining scenes, including Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill for their many restaurants in restored mills and historic buildings—and Newburyport for its popular dining spots in its picturesque downtown area—but one community seems to fly under the radar even though it has some excellent food and drink options.
Amesbury is starting to get mentioned more and more as a dining destination these days, however, in part because of some really impressive restaurants in and around its charming city center, and a few of these spots sit near a cascading river which is a rarity in Eastern Massachusetts.
What’s interesting is that Amesbury has an almost inordinate number of upscale dining and drinking spots for such a small community, with a handful of them being included below along with a few local hangouts that are more of the casual, cheap eats variety.
A rustic eatery that has been around for more than 20 years now, Flatbread Company (5 Market Square) is part of a small group of wood-fired pizza spots, with the Amesbury outlet being right in the heart of the historic mill area of the city (and close to the swiftly-moving Powow River). Flatbread Company is a friendly, laid back place that features pizzas cooked in a very short time in a red-hot oven that imparts a delicious char to the pies, and the beer list is quite impressive.
Located on the northern edge of downtown in a mainly residential area, Phat Cats Bistro (65A Market Street) is a casual upscale spot that has the feel of a real local favorite. This restaurant mostly features New American fare with its menu including such options as mussels, lobster rangoon, baked oysters, hanger steak sliders, surf and turf risotto and chicken napoleon, and the place has an excellent wine list while also serving a number of old-school cocktails.
Amesbury certainly has quite a few options for beer, wine and cocktails, and the Fortune Bar (12 Friend Street) may be the one for you if you like dive bars—especially those that are more friendly than rough around the edges. Located on a busy commercial street just up from the historic downtown mills, the Fortune Bar has the look and feel of an old-fashioned watering hole with its backless barstools and long bartop, and the fact that it serves jello shots and pierogi gives it some serious street cred.
Located in the heart of the downtown area (and in the same complex as Flatbread Company), Market Square Bakehouse (5 Market Square) is where the locals go to kick back with a coffee, tea, or kombucha while also enjoying soups, salads and sandwiches. Market Square’s patio is a very popular spot when the weather is nice, and if you like their specialty coffees, they do retail as well so you can purchase a bag or two to bring home with you.
Another rustic and cozy place in a mill building in the heart of the downtown area is Brewery Silvaticus (9 Water Street), a brewery and taproom complete with exposed brick, lots of dark woods, old-fashioned hanging lights and a mix of barstools, picnic tables and regular tables with bench seats and chairs along with a riverside beer garden. In addition to fresh brews, you’ll also find snacks here such as cheese sticks, salami, pretzels and pickled veggies.
Restaurants that are located in old train depots tend to have a lot of character, and Crave (10 Water Street) is no exception, with its hardwood floors, exposed pipes and earthy colors giving the place a feeling of stepping back in time. Crave is yet another casual upscale spot in the downtown area, and it known in part for its classic and New American bistro fare such as crab cakes, beef tenderloin and penne with chicken, and its extensive list of whiskeys includes some really high-end options.
If it’s Italian food you want, Ristorante Molise (1 Market Street) in the downtown area is a terrific choice, and one with a warm and inviting atmosphere that makes it a great date-night spot. Molise features all kinds of pasta dishes along with chicken, veal and seafood options, and the drink list includes beer, wine, and cocktails along with a number of cordials such as campari, frangelico, grappa, limoncello and sambuca.
Vegetarians have some options when they’re in Amesbury, with Wild Garlic (13 Friend Street) perhaps being the best choice because its focus is exclusively on meatless dishes including veggie burgers, rice and sesame noodles, tofu options, salads, vegetable soups, focaccia, pasta and more. Wild Garlic sits across from the Fortune Bar on a busy stretch of Friend Street, and because it focuses on takeout, this is a good spot to grab a bite to eat and find a nearby bench on a nice day.
It’s tough to beat the views at Blue Moon Kitchen and Bar (26 Millyard #8) since its patio is right above the river, but it’s interior is attractive as well, having a modern industrial vibe with its exposed beams and brick and its clean and simple setup. Expect to find pub food and American classics at the Blue Moon, with such options as chicken fingers, street corn, buffalo chicken dip, oysters, hummus, hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta dishes and pork chops being offered.
Pub fare is also the name of the game at the Ale House (33 Main Street), and you can order all kinds of craft beers in cans and bottles and on tap, too, including a good number of local and regional options. Another downtown dining and drinking spot that is located right on the river, the Ale House has the type of atmosphere that you can only find in a waterside mill building and is a perfect place to go on a rainy day, kicking back with such dishes as shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash while sipping on a tasty brew.