Fall River, Massachusetts, and Tiverton, Rhode Island
Soares Restaurant (190 Alden Street, Fall River, Massachusetts; 508-324-0800), a.k.a. Benevides Restaurant, was a nice find for real Portuguese home cooking, as opposed to the Portuguese-American fare found around New Bedford, Massachusetts. Listen to a podcast in which I explain how I found the place: MP3.
The cruddy-looking building and location on a bleak residential block just add to the charm, as do the hapless but kindhearted waitress and the taciturn old Portuguese dudes glumly downing their Budweisers. To someone who’s never been to Portugal and sopped up that beautiful, melancholy culture, such an experience might seem depressive. But I’ve spent a lot of time there, and have fallen deeply in love with the country. So I sighed with contentment throughout the meal.
As I mention in the podcast, this porco alentejana isn’t authentically Alentejan—the application of coriander is way too cursory. But it is an authentically Portuguese mis-rendition of porco alentejana—the sort of thing a chef from Porto or Coimbra might whip up. The strewing of lemon, olives, and clams is unmistakably the work of a Portuguese-born chef. His kids won’t be able to do this. Nor will they have the courage to cut the pork aiming not for tenderness but for chewiness. That’s a dying art.
Portuguese pork—the way they butcher it, the way they cut it, the way they cook it and season it, the way they feel it—is an evocative last vestige of how humanity conceived of pig for the previous umpteen millennia. Niman Ranch my ass.
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I stumbled into Cross I’d Cow Ice Cream (532 Main Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-1555) in a shopping strip. Chowconnaissance means dropping any attempt to control the sequence of savory and salty. Dessert is had as dessert appears.
Is it just me, or is their flavor menu really hard to choose from?
The counter girl decoded mysterious flavors like Moose Tracks, Cowagunga Crunch, and White Thunder for me, but I failed to diligently write it all down. Forgive me; I’m starting to get a bit punchy (hopefully the Rhode Island seaside air will do me some good).
I ordered Apple Crisp ice cream, and it was charming and honest in a non-gourmet, relatively low-butterfattish way.
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On my way down to the shore, I passed over a bridge that spanned an inlet. I noticed in my rearview mirror a bunch of old houses and fishing piers quietly clustered on the opposite bank. So I swung a U-turn and tried to get down to the bank, hoping to find supernal seafood.
It took lots of winding and wending, but I eventually navigated to the enclave just as a spectacular sunset appeared across the water. If I timed this right, I’d be munching clams in the perfect setting. But there were no clams to be found. Lots of salty private homes, shuttered boat rental offices, and inexplicable storage facilities, but nary a bar or a clam shack. Determined to score before the sunset died, I sped along the shoreline, finding only a coffee bar with a single plastic table affording a partial view of the water. But the owner was closing up.
I asked her to recommend a restaurant, and she suggested I drive a few more miles along the shore to Evelyn’s Drive-In (2335 Main Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island; 401-624-3100), good for clams. I blurred over to Evelyn’s, which has a waterside deck out back, lunged for the sole empty table, dropped my equipment and guidebooks, and tried to soak in as much sunset as I could.
The temperature plunged and I was dressed lightly. All the other patrons were sensible enough to withdraw inside the restaurant, but I was determined to see this through, and tore into a combo plate of fried whole belly clams and scallops. Very delicate frying nicely accentuated the flavor of the seafood. The clams had a good funky, earthy flavor. Scallops were impeccably fresh and sweet. Even slightly overcooked, they still spoke to me.
Smug about my find (which, after all, I had worked hard for), I checked Elizabeth Bougerol’s book New England’s Favorite Seafood Shacks. Elizabeth, damn her, had found this place and devoted two full pages to it. I sure hope this isn’t a pattern.