The Merrimack River might not be a southern bayou, but you’d never know it at Loretta, where the taste of New Orleans is alive and kickin’.
“It’s what I grew up with,” says Executive Chef Kip Dixon, who brought the flavors of his Mobile, Alabama, upbringing with him to the Newburyport restaurant, which opened in January 2010. Named for owner Ted Epstein’s mother, Loretta has a prime spot on bustling State Street and is pretty inside, with brick walls, an exposed beam ceiling, and cherry-hued tables and chairs. A small bar in the back and signed photographs of sports and movie stars lend an intimate, inviting feeling to the space.
Although there’s more on the Loretta menu than Creole classics, they’re what Dixon is known for, and what’s in his blood. “This is where my heart is,” he says. “These recipes go back a hundred years. It’s just family and heritage, and everybody’s got their own twist on all the same recipes.”
His take on the classic Shrimp Creole uses fresh thyme and cayenne pepper, rather than the more traditional oregano and black pepper. Sugar and Worcestershire sauce provide a touch of sweetness, giving balance to the dish’s spicy Tabasco kick. It comes with a generous portion of plump Gulf white shrimp.
Also on the menu is the traditional New Orleans Crawfish Étouffèe. Dixon’s variations on gumbo—such as seafood or chicken and andouille sausage—keep it a popular appetizer special; he says customers complain if it’s ever off the menu.
But Epstein adds that Dixon’s repertoire extends far beyond gumbo, pointing to Loretta’s wine dinners, which occur every few months and pair wine flights with a four-course meal. Past menus have included Yukon Gold Potato Spring Rolls, Colorado Rack of Lamb, and Chocolate Soufflé. Customers love the restaurant’s Day Boat Cod, which comes from local fishing boats, and grass-fed beef hamburgers, such as the Smokehouse Burger, which features house-smoked cheddar cheese. The restaurant also smokes its own ribs, fish, and pork shoulders.
Another one of Dixon’s specialties is the sinfully delicious New Orleans Bread Pudding, a decadent version made with fresh brioche and topped with a whiskey praline sauce and vanilla ice cream. Unlike many bread puddings, this one isn’t mushy, but chewy and slightly puffed. People come to Loretta just for that dessert. Dixon says toasted butter is the secret to the sublime whiskey praline sauce.
“And, of course, the whiskey,” he adds. “My mother and my great aunt and all the women in my family, they’re all amazing cooks, and each one of them had a different variation of the bread pudding, and I kind of used all of them.”
Dixon’s inspiration comes from his heritage and deep love for the Gulf Coast cooking he was raised on. “My grandfather still lives on the bayou. We’d go out and fish and catch crabs all day long, come home and cook all night long,” he says. “We’d have the huge shrimp boils and fish fries and the whole community activity. That’s something that’ll never leave you.”
27 State Street