Thursday, March 10, 2011
La Primavera Pub
The Primavera Pub isn't the only debut today on Sad City, as we are introducing our first review from the Hartford Food Guy. The Hartford Food Guy ("HFG") writes detailed restaurant reviews and we hope to get a weekly review on a Hartford restaurant from him going forward.
Located at 271 Newington Ave.
For the record, we highly recommend the Primavera Mix.
The Primavera Pub is one of my favorite restaurants in the area. It is a no bullshit neighborhood place (so much so that it doesn't have - or apparently need - a website) that serves great Portuguese food at a fair price in a cozy (OK, cramped) little building that literally sits right on the Hartford/Newington line.
I particularly like PP because I am half Portuguese (My mother's family is originally from the Azores and were part of the first great wave of Portuguese immigration in the 1880's and 1890's). For my money, the PP serves the most authentic Portuguese food in the Hartford area.
Indeed, one of the basic rules of ethnic restaurants is that you can tell a lot about the quality and authenticity of the food by how popular it is with people of that ethnic group. I have never been to the PP and not heard multiple conversations being conducted entirely in Portuguese among the patrons. That's a good sign.
Last night I went with two Italian-American friends; A colleague from work who is also a big fan of the PP and a neighbor to whom I introduced the PP a few weeks ago. He, however, brought a friend of his own who just happened to be a nephew of the proprietor.
It was great to have him as part of our party because, not only is he a nice guy and an obviously good judge of Portuguese food, but he speaks perfect Portuguese (as opposed to my crappy third-generation gibberish). This proved to be helpful with the waitstaff. The young women who work the tables these days at the PP are from Brazil. They are very attentive, hardworking, and friendly and they all do speak English to a reasonable extent. That said, my newest dinner companion was able to facilitate our ordering and expedite cashing out at the end of the night.
The restaurant was packed when we got there at 7:15pm and we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table to clear. Indeed, business had been so brisk over the last few days that they had run out of Sagres, the most famous beer brewed inPortugal and a staple at almost every Portuguese restaurant at which I've ever eaten (Fortunately, there is nothing particularly unique about Sargres other than its provenance, so a Beck's was a perfectly satisfactory substitute).
Once we were seated we were given complimentary olives and Portuguese rolls. The rolls were fresh and tasty and very consistent with the type and quality of Portuguese rolls I've had at many different restaurants. My new dinner companion pointed out, however, that the rolls you get in Portugal are not as heavy and have a browner (i.e. more baked) surface than those with which I am familiar.
We started with an appetizer of a dozen codfish cakes ($.50 each/$6 total). For the uninitiated, a codfish cake is a small (a bit less mass than a golf ball) sphere (almost like a football or rugby ball) filled with codfish, potato, and sometimes seasoning, with a fried outer surface that usually filled with a variety of spices and seasonings. Growing up on the ocean in a heavily Portuguese community, I have eaten hundreds (if not thousands) of these little morsels and last night's batch rated reasonably well, though there was a bit too much potato and not quite enough cod. The seasoning, however, was good.
I had the "Primavera Mix" for dinner ($14.50). This is a combination of fresh clams, shrimp, and lightly marinated pork cubes served over a brownish/yellow rice, plus lightly fried potato cubes. The clams were quite tasty as were the seasoned pork cubes.
I don't know very much about continental Portuguese cooking, but all these elements are very common in Azorean cooking. The two styles are noticeablydifferent (if you watch Anthony Bourdain's show, you already know this, as he has been to both the Azores and to the Continent). At a 30,000 foot level, cooking in the Azores tends to be simpler and makes greater use of fish and especially shellfish. Cooking on the Continent, especially in and around Lisbon, is much more complex and makes greater use of beef.
My understanding is that, historically, beef was less common in the Azores owing to both the shortage of land (they are small islands and it takes a lot less room to keep pigs, chicken, and fowl) and to the relative poverty of the residents (which was very pronounced for many years but which has changed pretty dramatically in the last 20-25 years). In fact, of all the Azorean food I had growing up, I can't remember any of it involving beef.
Speaking of beef, my co-worker had the bitoque a casa (house steak) ($13.50) which was a reasonably sized strip steak with sauteed mushrooms, again on a bed of rice and potato cubes. He seemed to enjoy it. The house steak is not to be confused with the so-called "Portuguese steak" (also on the PP menu) which is a strip steak with an egg fried on top of it - quite delicious but not conducive to a long life.
My co-worker also had a glass of hearty house red wine. He is a real foodie, but loves a good Portuguese house red believing that the Portuguese tend to do modestly priced wines better than almost anyone. I agree, but I am prejudiced in this regard. He seemed satisfied with his glass.
My neighbor had the pork and shrimp mix ($14.50) which was very much like my dinner, but with no clams and more pork and more shrimp.
My new dinner companion had the alantejana ($14.50). Alantejana is a (perhaps the) signature Portuguese dish and you are likely to find it in almost everyrestaurant which purports to specialize in Portuguese cuisine. The dish comes from the Alentejo region of Portugal, which is essentially everything south of the Tagus River (which bisects the country and empties into the Atlantic at Lisbon) except for the Algarve, which is the most southern part of the country (and a quite popular vacation spot, especially for Brits). It is a hearty meal consisting of pork cubes marinated in white wine, paprika, garlic, and other stuff (depending on thechef). The cubes are fried and then mixed with clams and served over cubedpotatoes. The PP's Alantejana is also served with a generous helping of rice.
My new dinner companion had no complaints. Actually, none of us did. The food was, as always, excellent.
One thing you need to know about eating at the PP is that the portions are generous. Actually, they are more than generous, and you frequently see customers leaving with dogie bags. Our meals were no different and my two Italian dinner companions had to work to clear their plates (when an Italian struggles to clear his plate, you know there is a lot of food on his plate).
After dinner, my new companion went to talk to his uncle, which resulted in a complimentary round of drinks. My co-worker and I took the bait and both hadMaciera, which is form of Portuguese brandy. It is a potent liquor that tastes delicious but which has quite a fiery kick to it that follows the liquid all the way down your esophagus. Not for the faint of heart, but a great way to end the meal. Actually, one of the hidden treasures inside the PP is its fully-stocked bar. There are a variety of Portuguese wines (including vino verde, which literally means "green wine" but which actually refers to a variety of red and white wines fromMinho, which is in the far north of Portugal, just south of the Galicia region of Spain). There are also several cordials, including port.
The atmosphere at the PP is pretty casual and very authentic, with the walls covered in Portuguese soccer memorabilia, musical instruments, flags, etc. There are two large TV's which, unless there is a soccer match to be watched, are given over to FOX News and RTP (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal). Both are quite popular with the regulars who cram into the small bar that runs the width of therestaurant and separates the kitchen from the dining area.
I won't tell you PP is fine dining, because it is not. It is, however, an excellentrestaurant that serves delicious, authentic, and very reasonably-priced Portuguese food. The clientele is diverse. Many, but certainly not all, are Portuguese (or are of Portuguese descent). PP attracts construction workers, families with children, older couples, young couples on a romantic date, groups of friends who enjoy each other's company, and people like me, who just love good (Portuguese) food.
Do yourself a favor and check it out.
As I said, PP doesn't have a website, but here are a couple of links to some reviews and maps -http://www.yelp.com/biz/primavera-pub-hartford;http://local.yahoo.com/info-10531480-primavera-pub-hartford. Also, if you search on Google Maps, you will find a good map and several more (very favorable) reviews.