Back in the Age of Discovery, Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral stood at the western edge of Europe, gazing out into the vast Atlantic Ocean – into the great beyond. Saltwater breezes filled their nostrils. Blue water extended like sapphire sparkles to their horizon. “Where to next?” they must’ve pondered. Enterprising and courageous, they were intent on bidding farewell to their wives, mistresses, and mums, their brothers, sisters, children, and so forth, all to find a new maritime route to Asia – the land of spice and silk riches. They then set sail.
Now we all know what happened next. Some of them crossed the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, then traveled eastward on route to Asia. Meanwhile, some went westward to a brand-new world that would one day be called America, one Portuguese explorer discovering present-day Brazil – “Hey there, Cabral!”
But aside from what these explorers “sought,” what did they bring? After eating at O’Manel Restaurant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, it’s clear that they brought good food. Stepping into O’Manel Restaurant is like stepping back in time, maybe not those dusty old 1500s – but definitely the dusty 1950s. Tables donned with sweet white tablecloths, walls decorated with charming Portuguese “port” photos, O’Manel is an atmospherically rich eatery that serves up delicious, authentic Portuguese cuisine. You know you’re in a “two thumbs up” ethnic eatery if the staff and surrounding patrons are speaking the language. Bring on the “boa tarde” and “obrigada” at O’Manel.
Language praise aside, the food at O’Manel is truly delicious and authentic. It’s a full menu, consisting of items like Sopa a Alentejana – an out-of-this-world garlic, egg, and bread soup that yours truly hasn’t eaten since her Portugal 1996 days. Now how do you put full slices of bread into a soup and not have it become soggy and blah tasting? Leave it to talented Portuguese chefs. This soup is rich, flavorful, but not overwhelming even with its garlic-strong broth. Instead, it gives you a light, instant warm-up – perfect for a rainy day.
I REMEMBER YOU!
The “light” spices of the soup are a delectable sign of what’s to come in the main course – as Portuguese cuisine isn’t traditionally super-spicy. Instead, emphasis is placed on using just enough spice to enhance the natural flavors of the food. It's all about fresh, simple ingredients cooked in a relatively simple way. How refreshing – you can taste all the ingredients in Portuguese food, even calling them out by name. “What’s that delish-dish roll call?”
Moving on, the main course menu options at O’Manel are a wondrous array of surf ‘n turf. But if pulling out your iPhone, and checking Portugal’s place on that trusty Google Earth map, it’s no surprise that O’Manel’s seafood and fish is highly revered and worth a taste – at least at your inaugural O’Manel outing. Think five or six different varieties of bacalao (codfish), seafood paella, shrimp, trout, and more. It’s a veritable Atlantic and Mediterranean feast – that might get you hankering for old-timey fishing nets and those soulful fado ballads (Portuguese sailor songs).
Yours truly tried the Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa – a bacalao that’s baked with thin slices of onions, potatoes, and topped with black olives. This dish is hardy, expectedly seafood-y in all the best ways, and awesomely Mediterranean with the olive oil flavor – enhanced due to the baking. The result is gastronomic synergy – the bountiful meal magic surpasses the sum of its food parts.
Going to O’Manel Restaurant is a treat. Everything from the atmosphere, the staff, the patrons, and most importantly, the food, leaves you feeling pleasantly grateful for our global society. It’s a comparatively small restaurant in a comparatively small American city, and yet it holds the history of the world in its delightful clay dishes. Light, breezy, and conversely hardy, and nourishing, O’Manel is a must-eat for ethnic foodies. Like those long-gone Age of Discovery explorers, seek out your favorite O’Manel dish. And if you’re a wine aficionado, be sure to pair your meal with a glass of Casal Garcia. “Saude!”
A SIP OF ATLANTIC BLUE