By Suzanne Parker
Although a clutch of Portuguese restaurants and bars cluster around the general vicinity of Jamaica Station, we thought that the Portuguese-American population that supported them had moved on to the ‘burbs some time ago. On a recent frigid Wednesday evening we were disabused of that notion.
There were enough either hold-outs or returnees, joined by Spaniards, Italians and Brazilians, at A Churrasqueira to create a lively scene. Singles, couples, families with children drifted in. Everyone seemed to know each other. We seemed to be the only patrons not table-hopping to exchange olás and double-cheek kisses.
Manuel Cardozo opened A Churrasqueira 30 years ago. When the space next door became available, affording him room for a formal dining/catering space, he traded up. The chef, Faderit Pinto, was there at the beginning for 10 years, took a little time out to open his own place back in Portugal, and returned to Churrasqueira about seven years ago.
We dined in the original space, with the bar running the length, and dominated by large screen TVs tuned to futebol. The wine list here is extensive, with a heavy emphasis on regional Portuguese wines. The Ports alone numbered 17. We stuck with the house white, a Portuguese with a romantic name, Foral Da Rainha, meaning “garden of the princess.” Living up to its name, it was a light fruity wine with plenty of floral notes. The pour was so generous, it rivaled what you get when you order a craft beer at some of the tonier watering holes.
There is a daily specials menu which combines some of their signature dishes with some off-menu items.
The so-called appetizer of Portuguese sausage grilled with grappa was as daunting as it was delicious. The portion size would have been a satisfying appetizer for four or five diners. These pups are way meatier than your average. Rather than being stuffed with unidentifiable ground stuff, they are filled with solid chunks of ham. After eating two or three chunks each, we took the rest home and enjoyed them with breakfast and in lentil soup, keeping us going for several days. Another appetizer, Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato (Clams in Garlic Sauce) was fresh tasting and garlicky, and at a dozen clams also generous. The strategy here should be to plan to share your hors d’ouevres with your table, ideally with some Portuguese wine.
Camaro Mocambique (shrimp Mozambique-style) was from the specials menu. As with all former colonial powers, the cuisine of Portugal benefitted from the culinary influences of its outposts. The shrimp in question were four behemoths, head and shells intact, grilled and coated with a sweet and spicy orange sauce. They were accompanied by house-made potato chips and a fragrant rice pilaf. Both were delish, although we have to wonder why two starches. Something green wouldn’t have hurt.
One of Churrasqueira’s specialties, steak on a stone, also appeared on the specials menu. This is a tender, well marinated steak, brought to the table sizzling, on a stone slab. Be forewarned, if you like your steak rare, remove it from the slab immediately. If you leave it on the slab, it will continue to cook. We foolishly cut sections off, leaving the rest on the stone, and suffered the consequences of eating not-so-rare steak.
It was killing us that all the veteran patrons seemed to be ordering something that we couldn’t identify, so we asked. It was another special, fried whiting. We begged for, and received a sample. Dream fried fish, light and crunchy and mild. They are fried whole, and stare back at you a little, but don’t be put off. Wish we spotted these guys before we were stuffed.
Complete your meal with a traditional Portuguese dessert like home-made flan, or just sip from one of the choices on the mind-boggling list of Ports.
The Bottom Line
At A Churrasqueira, you can have dinner in Portugal without leaving home. The food is authentic, delicious and affordable. Live performances of fada music and other Portuguese cultural events are held about once a month. And if you love garlic as much as we do, you gotta love this place.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
A Churrasqueira Restaurant
95-29 Sutphin Blvd.
Price Range: Appetizers: $12 — $13, Entrees: $13 — $25
Setting: Bar and separate dining room, Portuguese theme
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Hours: Daily, noon—10 p.m.
Alcohol: Full bar
Parking: Free parking at C&G parking lot across street.
Music: Portuguese traditional music once or twice a month. Call for schedule.
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Lively
Handicap accessible: Yes