We recently had our first meal, and possibly our last, at Stomping Grounds. The food was excellent and inventive, and the outside seating atmosphere was as expected when along Main Street in Buzzards Bay, but the service was so flawed that under ordinary circumstances we would not provide a review, especially without a second visit.
However, we concluded that there are so few optimal days, weather-wise, for a restaurant with outdoor seating in our region, so when those optimal days occur, we have every reason to expect the restaurant staff to be on its “A” game. We visited Stomping Grounds on what had to be one of the nicest Saturday afternoons this summer, and we didn’t expect the 150-minute ordeal it became.
First, the good news: the Stomping Greens salad ($12) is hands-down one of the better salads we’ve had this year. It included generous additions of sliced green grapes, toasted pine nuts, chick peas, and roasted brussels sprouts. We marveled at how much prep time that dish must have taken, and wondered why no one else had come up with this delicious combination. It’s tossed with a light lemony parmesan dressing that makes all the ingredients sing. Twelve dollars for a salad? When your licked-clean plate is taken away from you, we promise, you will be thinking you got a great deal.
We also ordered an appetizer called “Spuds MacKenzie” ($8), described as “our twist on a classic favorite and a must try.” We did try, and while we have no clue what “classic favorite” this was twisting and found the presentation kind of weird, we liked it. Thin wedges of roasted red bliss potatoes were served with a a little bowl of dipping sauce that included gorgonzola blended with ground walnuts and bacon. Gina initially objected, saying it was too rich, but in no time was slathering it on the end of her salad.
We also enjoyed the Mediterranean Fish Stew ($16), another unexpected bargain. Served in an oversized bowl — too big, really, and it was difficult to get the spoon at the right scooping angle as a result — the soup had a rich tomato broth in which we found giant shrimp, scallops, tuna, mussels, carrots, celery, and potatoes. It came with grilled pita bread with a subtle curry topping, excellent to dip into the soup. This was Gina’s entree, and she took half home after sharing much with the Big Dog.
The Dog’s lunch was a Buzzards Bay Reuben ($10), which seemed like a regular Reuben. There’s a choice of corned beef or turkey, and it comes with Cape Cod brand potato chips and some crisp, fresh, slaw made of red and green cabbage.
We ordered a bottle of Josh Cellars cabernet ($34), as it’s one of our favorites, and this proved to be a wise move, because we were able to pour ourselves a second glass while we were waiting for our food to arrive.
It took a bit for our waitress to make her way to our table, and she apologized excessively for the delay, and then for the fact that she had not brought menus. When that finally happened, we selected the Josh from the short but carefully considered list of beer and wine options, plus artisanal spirits. Soon, the wine was delivered, opened, and ceremoniously poured by a young man in a grubby tee-shirt who we assumed to be a bus boy but who we later learned was the chef-owner. Note to chefs everywhere: Call us old fashioned, but we’ve chosen to spend a special occasion with you, and we think you should be dressed as if it’s a special occasion for you too. We want to believe you’re working magic in the kitchen, and if you feel more comfortable wearing a stained hoodie or a flour handprint on your pants, please don’t dash our illusions — stay in the kitchen.
(Rant over. You know we believe that chefs and other restaurant staff are the hardest-working humans and we hate to criticize them.)
Our appetizers were delivered with another round of apologies, and this time, the Big Dog stepped in and asked the waitress to stop doing that. We were enjoying a relaxing afternoon on a beautiful patio with a nice glass of wine, and the waitress’ implication that something was going terribly wrong was detracting dramatically from our enjoyment. The young couple sitting near us snickered audibly, clearly having thought the same thing.
Twenty minutes later, with the sun beating down mercilessly, the wine bottle nearly empty, and our entrees yet to arrive, we regretted saying anything. The waitress returned again empty handed, said she really needed to apologize now, and blamed someone else for losing our order.
Entrees arrived, we thought they were excellent, packed half for home, and that was that.
We realized, driving away, why this scene seemed not just unpleasant but inappropriate: because in the universal language of restaurants, the second “I’m so sorry” is followed immediately by, “… Save room for one of our outstanding desserts, on the house!” or “… We’ve taken that weird potato thing off your bill.” None of that here.
Will we return? Too soon to tell. The food was excellent, but the fact remained that we spent $99, with beverage, tax, and tip (yes, 16.5 percent despite the flaws, mostly because Gina is not good at math) on a lunch that consisted of soup and salad, a sandwich, and an appetizer. We thought the food was a great value, but we did not get anything close to hundred-dollar service.
Recently, Gina and the Big Dog went on a mussel-eating binge. In two weeks or so, we ordered mussel appetizers off five different menus in the northeastern corner of Buzzards Bay and came away with the conclusion that there’s something for everyone here.
We were surprised by the diversity. The basic strategy, we believe, is to saute fresh and clean mussels, typically from Prince Edward Island, in a tasty sauce just to the point of doneness. Add some bread for dipping in the sauce and you’ve got a hearty and simple appetizer. Each of our local restaurants interpreted all of that differently.
Our first stop was at Mezza Luna in the village of Buzzards Bay. This institution is a favorite destination of ours when we are looking for consistent, good food in a comfortable yet white-tablecloth atmosphere. The bar is typically packed with people who make for interesting eavesdropping, but on this Tuesday evening, it was unexpectedly quiet.
The mussels appetizer ($13) inspired our little journey with four parenthetical, challenging words on the menu: “We’re famous for them.” So we chose the standard preparation, which the menu describes as being “in our delicious garlic and wine parmesan cream sauce.” Mussels are also available with marinara or fra diavlo sauce.
The generous bowl of fresh mussels arrived topped with slivers of garlic and a delicious, creamy, cheesy sauce. This was hands-down Gina’s favorite dish of the odyssey, as much for its careful presentation as its flavor. The bread for dipping was served on the side. The dish came topped with a bowl for shells. The sauce was delicious and the mussels were fresh.
Heading west (on a different day), we stopped at Lindsey’s Family Restaurant in East Wareham, where “Mussels Sambuca” were available as a special ($14.99). Now, we know that the folks at Lindsey’s are extremely smart and very responsive to their clientele, and this dish is offered as a special relatively frequently, so it must be popular. But the combination of flavors seemed odd to us. Sambuca liqueur laced a creamy sauce, served with a hunk of garlic bread on top.
We agreed that the shellfish, also described as hailing from PEI, at Lindsey’s, was the best prepared of the four mussel dishes we enjoyed. They were clean and fresh and cooked just to the point of doneness.
A bit farther down Route 6/28 is Bailey’s Surf & Turf, another favorite spot where the Big Dog found his preferred mussels dish.
This scampi version, offered as a special that day ($11.95), was the classic preparation that many think of as the way to prepare mussels. A little white wine, a lot of butter, a healthy toss of fresh garlic, maybe some parsley, and you’ve got yourself a classic. Given the odd adornments we saw during our journey, the simplicity here was welcome.
And the oddest were yet to come.
Venturing to the region’s other end of Route 6, we went to Brew Fish in Marion, another favorite spot with a nice bar and good wine and beer selection. We like the food there.
Not this time.
We saw the word “mussels” ($11) and ordered. Had we continued reading the description, we would have gotten to “fennel.” One thing we agree on is that we don’t like fennel. If you like fennel more than you like shellfish, you would love this dish. If you like fennel at all, you might like this — it’s unusual and creative.
Our last stop (for a while) was another local favorite, the Stonebridge Bistro in Onset. This dish ($11) was dubbed “Pan Roasted Mussels” and described as PEI mussels sautéed in white wine, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. It’s on the regular appetizer menu. We don’t know why, but these mussels were in ordinary-sized shells, but the morsels inside were very small. It was a hearty serving, though, and with a Caesar salad and small flatbread pizza, was plenty of food for the two of us. (And inexpensive too, considering the quality. We also ordered a bottle of Toasted Head cabernet, and the whole thing came to just 52 bucks.)
The bread served with the mussels was the best of our tour. The bread has to hold its own in the sauce, and can’t arrive soaking in it. The Bistro serves a delicious grilled sourdough with many of their dishes, and it really shines in this one.
The one complaint we had at every stop but the Mezza Luna was that our mussels were not served with a bowl for shells. At a couple of restaurants we didn’t even get side plates. We assumed that steamed mussels would be served just like steamed clams. Maybe other folks have a different approach to eating steamed mussels, but we can’t imagine steamers coming without a shell bowl and side plates. Maybe we should find out, in our next odyssey.
If you view dining out as entertainment, and also like us feel that a thoughtfully planned meal is like a well directed movie with preparation, setting and service all a part of the exquisite cinematography, then you must dine at the bar at The Cabin.
It has all of those elements, plus the outstanding choreography of a well managed kitchen, all on display.
We were prompted to visit The Cabin by all the positive reviews on a fun, homey Facebook page called Lakeville/Middleboro Dining Out (Gina is a huge fan and encourages you to apply for membership to the group). As the Big Dog has roots in that area, we entertained the possibility that the positive reviews were the result of Lakeville/Middleboro residents being among the nicest people in the world, and never negative.
But they were being totally honest, not just nice, about The Cabin. The food was very good, the service was attentive and friendly, and the interplay of the kitchen kept us entertained for our entire visit.
It was a warm evening and we were in summer mode, so Gina started with a Mezzacorona pinot grigio ($7) and the Big Dog ordered an Ultimate Margarita featuring Jose Cuervo 1800 ($8.95). Both choices were good.
We like fried oysters and these, a special served with a spicy aoili, were very good ($10.95). Our affable bartender/waitress, Rachael, tracked down their origin and seemed as surprised and disappointed as we that they were not local, but rather from Virginia. But as much as we like to support our local farmers, we also like clean oysters fried in a light batter, like these were.
We watched dish after dish of the special swordfish ($17.95) flying out of the kitchen towards the small and far less entertaining dining room, so the Big Dog ordered that. Gina chose the menu’s baked seafood trio ($19.95), which Rachael gladly matched with two vegetable sides (broccoli and the evening’s special, green beans).
We suspect that a restaurant owner, especially one present like the Cabin’s, regrets his open kitchen a hundred times on a busy Saturday night. He’ll see flaws and hear muttered obscenities that the rest of us miss. In our case, we watched Gina’s distinctive dish simmer under a heat lamp while the Big Dog’s swordfish remained in the queue, and we could sense the stress level elevating.
But not ours. We remained entertained and distracted by the kitchen — the cool pizza maker to our right, the seasoned fry guy, the line, the efficient expediter, and their interplay with the rest of the staff.
When it arrived, Gina’s delight in finding a restaurant finally having removed the tails from delicious shrimp outweighed the slight delay and any other conceivable flaw we could have found. The fish and scallops were cooked perfectly, as were the beans and broccoli.
The Big Dog knew going into it that he wasn’t going to like the pineapple salsa atop the pan blackened swordfish, so he scooped it off and enjoyed the dish without it. The balance included mashed sweet potatoes and delicious asparagus.
When we first sat, the couple next to us greeted us like regulars; over the course of the evening, another couple took their place and they too acted like they knew us. The Middleboro/Lakeville vibe is part of the entertainment at The Cabin, and really added to our enjoyment of our positive experience there.
114 East Grove Street, Middleboro
We’re on a quest to find the best lobster roll in the region, and before we even started the quest, a friend told us the best lobster rolls are at the Seafood Shanty, located on the Bourne Scenic Highway opposite the Herring Run on the Cape Cod Canal.
Despite our focus on food, our view of local restaurants is often affected by ambiance, service, and the quality of the beer and wine list. None of those come into play here — the Seafood Shanty is a walk-up window; grab your tray and soft drink, and do your best finding a suitable picnic table.
To be honest, that setup barely qualifies as a dining experience for us. If we went to the salad bar at the Stop n Shop, we would not trouble you with our commentary about it, and a take-out window on a busy four-lane highway isn’t much better than a grocery lunch.
But the Shanty is a popular spot, and we can imagine that patrons flock there for someone’s proclaimed best lobster salad rolls ($20.50), the best scallop roll ($14.95), the best fish sandwich ($8.95), or any of the other standards they have to offer.
We’re certain all of those items are quite good. But we’re equally certain that the flocking is caused not by the main course, but by the french fries.
We each ordered lobster rolls, and like many of the sandwiches, they came with fries. Now, we’re the kind of people who see fries as high-calorie superfluousness, and we’ll often ask for a substitute on principle.
At the Seafood Shanty, we were glad we didn’t. Each fry was the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside ideal, and they were liberally crusted with salt. You can buy them on their own, at $4.95 for a large side, and we could easily imagine doing that. They were outstanding. We can think of none better in the Southcoast region.
Our thoughts on the lobster rolls were more mixed. They tasted good, with big chunks of lobster tossed with mayonnaise, laid atop some crisp green leaf lettuce and a saucy dollop of mayo inside a buttery bun.
Our issue was with the structure, and this is one time we’re hoping that the ownership will read and heed: We would have been happier with the same generous serving of lobster, or maybe even a little less, spread over two buns. We would cheerfully have paid $14.95 for half the lobster in one bun.
Here’s the thing: It’s not a sandwich if you can’t pick it up to eat it. And we couldn’t with these overstuffed fellas, until we had forked out a healthy serving of overflowing lobster. Many, if not most, of our fellow diners may subscribe to the 16-inch plate of pasta theory of dining value, but we just don’t. A great lobster roll is not one that has lobster on the plate next to it: it’s one that contains bite after bit of bread, sauce, and filling, all working together. The restaurant has been around since the early 1990s and is clearly quite successful, but we’re thinking a slightly different approach might work even better for them.
803 Scenic Highway (Route 6)
Hadley, who has run this kitchen for a dozen years, has gained a widespread reputation for creativity, while recognizing that diners value food that is consistent, fresh, and a great value. It’s an unusual combination for a restaurant that also offers an idyllic waterfront view, with a deck perched over the Stonebridge Marina in Onset.
On the night of our visit, Hadley was experimenting with an oyster special that displayed his special twist on the classic Rockefeller treatment.
He opened a pair of oysters and sat them, bowl side down, in a bed of kosher salt. “It infuses a little flavor, maybe, and keeps them upright,” he noted.
On these, he placed some chunks of bleu cheese, the element which kept this from being a true Rockefeller recipe, but which added a rich earthiness which clearly enhanced the original.
He then added a layer of scallions sautéed with spinach. While we were surprised at the tangle of scallion, Justin said many oysters Rockefeller recipes call for it in lieu of chopped onion or shallot.
Then came a generous, course crumble of cooked bacon.
Finally, Hadley hauled out a tray of a toasted panko concoction and insisted that we sample a pinch, then another. We could imagine eating this stuff by the buttery fistful from a cardboard tub at the movies, it was that good. The crumbs were mixed with butter, parmesan, butter, a hint of red pepper, and butter. He topped each oyster with the crumbs, then put them in the convection oven for five minutes.
The result was rich, bright, cheesy, salty, and crunchy – all of the characteristics of a perfect bar snack. He served the pair of oysters on a bed of organic baby spinach with two grilled half lemon quarters
The Stonebridge Bistro’s specials were part of the second annual Wareham Oyster Festival. A week of culinary and educational offerings centered around the oyster culminate annually in a street fair on the first Sunday in May on Main Street.
For more information about the Wareham Oyster Festival, visit warehamvillage.org.
The Stonebridge Bistro is located at Five East Boulevard in Onset; visit stonebridgebarandgrill.com for information.
Through the next seven days, some of our favorite Wareham restaurants will offer delicious oyster specials. Several informational talks are planned. The organizer, Wareham Village Association, will hold a fundraising gala at the new Rosebrook Event Center on Friday evening. A 5K road race is planned for Sunday morning, and the activities culminate on Sunday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a fun street fair on Main Street. There will be plenty of oysters, beverages from our friends at Westport Rivers Vineyard and Buzzards Bay Brewery, two dozen crafters and artisans, music by the Southcoast Jazz Orchestra and our friend Mikelyn Roderick, and more!
It’s an event you don’t want to miss, and an example of the local food and shellfish industries coming together to promote several important aspects of the local economy.
Visit the Wareham Village Association website to learn more.
P.S. We kicked off the week with a lunchtime plate of fried oysters at Bailey’s Surf and Turf. Yum!
We went to Martinis because we had one of those Living Social coupons and it was about to expire. We’d heard that they had pretty good food, and on Tuesday nights, live jazz. But it was really about the $15 coupon value we were soon to lose, so we were delighted when Martinis turned out to be a great dining experience, one chock-full of pleasant surprises.
First surprise: the restaurant was packed on a Tuesday night, with all eyes on a stage at the back of the long, narrow space. We were led to a high-top near the windows on Main Streeet by the same Jimmy who’d taken our call earlier and told us the kitchen was serving until 10. A young server, who turned out to be his daughter, Meg, brought us menus, then returned promptly to take our drink order. No waiting here, despite the crowd. We were treated like regulars.
Thinking that one should order a martini in an establishment called Martinis, The Big Dog chose a tiramisu concoction ($12) that was very sweet. Surprise Number Two came later, when we learned that the name comes not from the increasingly tarted-up classic beverage, but rather from the name of the restaurant in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Gina selected a Carnivor cabernet ($8).
The menu offers all kinds of interesting items, which can be good and bad. Often, what sounds like a good idea is actually not good at all. We decided to start with something called a Boursin Cheese Artichoke ($10), described as a “long-stemmed artichoke stuffed with house boursin cheese, baked with panko crumbs and aged balsamic drizzle.” It was heavenly. A baby artichoke was sliced in half, piled with a delicious boursin, and made crunchy with a layer of crumbs. Yes, it was a small portion for the price, but if that’s your standard for food, may we suggest the whopper junior with fries? We could see Surprise Number Three shaping up: excellent, creative food in a space entirely dominated by a bar.
The Big Dog called for a Sunflower Salad ($8), a fresh little plate of what others might call a Greek salad, whose twist was a sunflower oil vinaigrette and a scattering of sunflower seeds, along with some arugula mixed with the usual Greek components.
Gina ordered the roasted Statler chicken breast ($16), a classic preparation accompanied by a tasty sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and baby carrots (real youngsters, not those giant carrots pared into pellets on a lathe). It was very good. For that price, one would expect a far more ordinary dish.
The Big Dog’s entree was “bistro meatloaf” ($17). It was ground veal wrapped with bacon and topped with a tomato-y sauce and smoked cheddar. It too was served atop mashed potatoes and carrots.
Surprise Number Four? Host Jimmy returned a bit later and confided that the very nice jazz music was not your average has-beens, but rather the quartet who ordinarily supports a classic crooner who these days spends his time with a singer named Lady Gaga. Their artistry was an excellent compliment to the outstanding food.
We believe downtown Plymouth is one of the coolest places in southeastern Massachusetts, and once again were not disappointed.
Martinis Bar and Grill
50 Court Street, Plymouth
Generally speaking, it’s our kind of place Stretched along scenic Shore Road is first a wholesale fish market, then a retail market, then a room for takeout, then a delightfully rustic dining room, then a pub area with a handful of hightop tables on one side and a copper-surfaced bar on the other, then an outdoor patio, then the brackish Back River, which flows forcefully to and from Buzzards Bay with each tide.
Some come for the lively bar scene with periodic live music, some for the off-the-boat fresh fish in the market, some for the reasonably priced yet inventive meals in a dining room that’s as comfortable for toddlers as for Gramma.
We come for the water fowl, and we’re never disappointed.
Sure, the fish tacos featuring corn and black bean salsa ($12) are excellent. We love the beet napolean salad ($9) a composed structure of beets with blue cheese and not much else. The seafood stew ($8 for a 12-ounce cup) is rich and creamy, and the lobster roll ($21, but often available as part of a lunch special) makes you glad you live in New England even when it snows every day for two months. We like our Cabernet Sauvignon, and they have two good ones by the glass: Josh ($9) and Five Rows ($7).
But if you have any interest in wildlife, you’ll want to visit the Lobster Trap for lunch or an early dinner during the summer, and the food will take a back seat to the scene playing out before you at the bar.
The Back River is a tidal estuary which flows into a protected area known as Phinney’s Harbor. During our visits, we’ve watched heron, egrets, osprey, swans, hooded mergansers, buffleheads, black ducks, and more. Most recently, we watched two flocks of Canada geese converge upon one another as if they were playing out a scene from “West Side Story.” The undertow is vicious, and the birds take full advantage, propelled inland under Shore Road, then bobbing back under the railroad bridge.
Others, we’re sure, come for the unusually pleasant staff. This being a seasonal community — one we tend to avoid in the season — many patrons are greeted with a cheerful, “When did you get back!?”
During our most recent lunchtime visit, we experienced a rare misstep: the oversized “house-made brioche croutons” accompanying the caesar salad were like bricks. The Big Dog’s topping of very good steak tips saved his salad, and Gina thought the classic dressing on her side version offset the crouton debacle. And the slightest expression of dismay on our part drew effusive apologies from our server, and complimentary wines for each of us. Things go wrong even at the best establishments, and the front-line staff’s handling of a complaint makes the difference between a customer who won’t return, and one who enthusiastically recommends the place. As we recommend The Lobster Trap.
The Lobster Trap
290 Shore Road, Bourne
A Brazilian grill, as a generic term, is a style of restaurant known as a churrascaria. At a churrascaria, there are typically two all-you-can-eat things going on: acres of an outstanding, fresh, inventive salad bar with familiar favorites and some more exotic dishes; and a barbecue where a parade of waitstaff haul huge hunks of meat to your table and slice off pieces to order.
Yes, it sounds over the top, but it really isn’t. We went with friends to the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis for lunch recently… and let us tell you about the music first, to set the tone.
The charming hostess, who like the rest of the staff seemed to be Brazilian, thought for a few moments about which of the few remaining tables — this at 2 p.m. on a Sunday — would be most comfortable to us, then led us to one directly in front of where a man with a large collection of keyboards and amplifiers was setting up. Gina cringed, anticipating a wall of noise that would ruin our lunch.
Instead, the music, by jazz singer Ravi Melo, was perfect. Most of the songs were Brazilian Portuguese standards, with the likes of James Taylor interspersed, at a perfect volume.
We ordered a bottle of wine — a Silver Palm cabernet sauvignon for the table at $34 — from a list that includes a lot of Portuguese choices that might have been a better pairing but sadly, we’re just not familiar with them.
By the time the wine arrived, we’d already received three or four items from the parade of meats: some succulent hunks of filet mignon wrapped in bacon, moist pork tenderloins, and chicken hearts. There was flank steak stuffed with chunks of cheese, and little medallions of beef topped with mozzarella. And little sausages. And crispy chicken wings. And lamb. And more.
The ladies, well beyond protein overload, ventured to the salad bar and found a surfeit of green treats. Start with mixed greens, a fistful of watercress, a premixed Caesar, or Gina’s favorite, delicate Boston lettuce. Add cool roasted carrots, hearts of palm tossed in a creamy dressing, a julienne of radishes, grilled summer squashes, and any vegetable you can imagine pickled. Or soups! Or an array of sushi! Or hot dishes, with or without seafood! Or even a mounded platter of cracklings.
Our orders were classified as the Dinner Rodizio at $32.95 apiece. That’s the deal throughout the weekend, and evenings during the week. The weekday lunch portion, at just $17.95, is available until 4 p.m. There is a soup and salad option, which does not include the more exotic hot buffet options, available weekdays for just $10.95. We witnessed lots of people lining up at the grill with their takeout containers. For just $8.99 a pound, you can fill up a Styrofoam box with your choice of salad items then add your favorite meats.
And while takeout may be a good deal, we imagine the price of the box escalates pretty quickly with the juicy meats and saucy salads. You’re really better off hanging out in the lovely restaurant. The cordial waitstaff and the pleasant atmosphere, not to mention the music when available, combine for a special dining experience.
In the near future, we’ll find out — and let you know — whether other Brazilian grills spotted in Plymouth and Dartmouth are similar. In the meantime, we can assure you that the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis is fun, unusual, and delicious.
680 Main Street, Hyannis
Spend enough time in the Southcoast region of Massachusetts, and you almost become an honorary Portuguese citizen. Most local restaurants have kale soup and some sort of Mozambique dish on their menu. We like traditional Portuguese dishes and the zing that the colonies, notably Cape Verde and Brazil, have introduced.
That said, we must acknowledge that we’re a coupla pale-skinned Irish kids, and no Avo ever made us bacalhau. That can be good and bad when visiting an ethnic restaurant like Antonio’s. On the plus side, it means that we didn’t grow up with a single preparation of a traditional dish and find all others just plain wrong. Conversely, we don’t know when something has strayed so far from the traditional preparation as to be offensive to some.
Antonio’s has a very good reputation, and we’re pretty sure it doesn’t stray from tradition. It has been around for 25 years. At 2 p.m. one recent Saturday, every seat in the house was filled, which is weird — as you know, that’s our favored lunchtime, and we have never, ever, had to wait for a seat at that time anywhere, until we visited Antonio’s.
We were joined by Gina’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law, for a late Christmas get-together and gift exchange. They all live in the New Haven, CT, area, where ethnic restaurants are so common that you can choose not just the continent of origin, but the specific country — if you don’t care for the Ethiopian style of sambusa, you can find a Somalian restaurant instead, for example. But apparently New Haven doesn’t have any Portuguese restaurants, so our choice was simple.
The beer and wine list set the tone. Gina chose an Esporao Reserva from the Alentejo region of Portugal, while the Big Dog and Gina’s brother chose a Buzzards Bay Brewery IPA from the Westport region of Massachusetts. Everyone was happy with their selection.
For those new to Portuguese cuisine: It is carb-intensive. Most of our entrees came with a yummy yellow rice AND potatoes. AND a delicious bread basket of fresh rolls and bread slices. AND we ordered soups thickened by potato and/or beans. AND we ordered dizzyingly delicious custards in puff pastry for dessert. We were all ready to run a marathon the next day, and we’re sure some people do that.
The kale soup ($2.99) was delicious, but Avo would probably be opposed. Most of the preparations we’ve seen feature an oily beef broth with red kidney beans, sliced kale leaves, and hunks of chourico. This soup base was velvety, creamy, and thick, unlike anything we had seen. There were white AND red beans in evidence. AND macaroni. AND we’re sure there were some potatoes involved in the broth, all carrying on the carb tradition. This version had some strips of kale leaves, but the unusual addition of cabbage, cut from the stem end in a manner that invited the curly leaves to hang together in a very appealing way. We loved this soup, and will go back just for that.
We’ll hope for bread with our soup. The overflowing basket included some slices of white bread, and a half dozen “pops,” the Portuguese rolls officially known as papo secos.
Gina’s mom ordered the Chicken Algavaria ($14.99), and it stole the show. We should have known what was in store when the affable waitress brought the rest of us silverware, and Mom a shovel. The dish arrived in an aluminum vessel the size of a child’s wading pool. It was chock full of shrimp, littleneck clams, and chunks of boneless chicken tossed with saffon rice. We’re kidding about the shovel and the wading pool, but after Mom ate her portion and shared oversized tastes with the rest of us, she asked for the leftovers to be divided into two separate to-go containers, and the one we took home weighed four pounds. Four pounds! This was A BIG PORTION. At lunch!
Gina ordered the grilled swordfish ($13.99) which came with hunks of peeled white potatoes and broccoli, and took more than 60 percent of the fish and potatoes home. Big Dog ordered a lamb skewer ($13.99) which came with the saffron rice and a delicious salad, and took 70 percent of the lamb and rice home. Gina’s brother ordered Steak Tips Diane ($15.99), a creamy preparation that came with rice and french fries of which he took home 55 percent. Slim sister-in-law ordered a crab cake dish ($9.99) and managed to finish it, which made us assume it was an appetizer portion.
Bottom line: the five of us ended up with 13 meals averaging less than $6 apiece.
We all ended the meal with a Nata Custard Tart, a special for $1.25 apiece. We’re thinking it was a puff pastry pressed into a muffin tin and filled with a thin custard. When we come back for our kale soup and pops, please add one of these to our order. It was delicious and fun.
The decor at Antonio’s is pleasant and clean but not fancy. The service is suited to a white tablecloth setting, not the stacking-chair-and-paper-placemat scene we got. Overall, we felt our expectations were exceeded throughout our visit, and there is no higher compliment to a restaurant.
267 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford