Cafés, Portugal, March 2018

Travel can be stressful, with planes, trains, or even ships that must be caught, unfamiliar roads to follow, schedules to be met and new languages to learn.  It’s nice to be able to slow down from time to time and to stop at a café for a coffee or a glass of wine.  We experienced a lot of interesting cafés and we took advantage of them to stop and relax for a few minutes on our journey.  Here are just a few.

Aveiro is home to one of our favorite cafés, A Mulata.  It’s a tiny place on Avenida Santa Joana and a block from the Museu do Aveiro.  A Mulata has a nice breakfast and fresh baked goods with a lot of vegetarian options.  It was also a quiet place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine or beer.  We like quiet.

Porto’s most famous café is Café Majestic.  Opened in 1921, this art nouveau café was a favorite of British author J.K. Rowlings, who is rumored to have worked on the first Harry Potter book here.  The notoriety that comes with being associated with anything Harry Potter means that the café is always crowded with tourists.  We were looking for a nice quiet atmosphere where we could sit and enjoy breakfast and coffee, and Majestic was not the place for us.

Majestic Cafe

Fortunately, Porto has another iconic café just a short walk from Majestic.  Named for a Brazilian indigenous people, Café Guarany has been a popular gathering place for Portuenses since 1933.  It’s a beautiful restaurant.  Renovated in 2003, the interior’s centerpiece are two paintings, “The Lords of Amazonia” by University of Porto alum Graça Morais.  We had a wonderful breakfast at Guarany and, later, stopped there again for dessert and coffee.

Braga has a pair of nice cafés in the Arcada at Praça da República, Café Astória and Café Vianna.  We chose to have breakfast at Café Vianna.  In operation for over 150 years, the café is supposedly where the 28 May 1926 coup d’etat began.  Portuguese novelists Eça de Queriós and Camilo Castelo Branco are said to have been visitors to the café during its long history.  We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast while we planned our day.  Located at the end of Praça da República, it proved to be a nice place to people watch.

Cafe Vianna Interior

Coimbra is home to another interesting historic café.  Located in what was once an auxiliary chapel, Café Santa Cruz has a wonderful interior, with vaulted ceilings and stained glass.  Opened in 1923, it’s another great place for coffee and a snack.  It’s location on Praça 8 de Maio and next door to Igreja de Santa Cruz make the café a good place for people watching.

Ze Manel dos Ossos, Coimbra, March 2018

My wife and I look upon dining out as an adventure.  We do a lot of research to find interesting and unique restaurants wherever we go.  I had done a lot of research into restaurants in the cities on our itinerary.  One restaurant that came up over and over was Ze Manel dos Ossos, in Coimbra.  The fact that it was just a short walk from our hotel was a bonus.  This would be our dinner destination.

Ze Manel dos Ossos is tucked down a little alley just a block from Largo da Portagem, a central square across from the Santa Clara bridge and a popular for shoppers and tourists.

A light rain was falling when we arrived at the restaurant.  Ze Manel dos Ossos is a very small restaurant with nowhere to wait inside for a table to become available, so we waited in the rain with a young man from Greece and his dinner partner, a young woman from Croatia, and, eventually, a man from Lisbon.  The young man had done his research as well and was not going to give up a chance to dine at Ze Manel dos Ossos.

We studied the menu so we’d know what we wanted when we were seated.  The best way to describe the offerings would be country cooking, or, as Ann Marie called it, peasant food.  We decided on a half order of braised goat and a half order of bean stew with wild boar.

Half an hour later we were all in and seated.

The restaurant is truly a hole in the wall.  The inside is tiny.  The front half of the restaurant is an open kitchen.  The back half is filled with simple wooden tables and chairs and the walls are covered with small pieces of paper- drawings, doodles and poems.  The waiter called our order to the cook, brought us our bread, a great bean and cabbage soup and a stoneware pitcher of red wine, and we were under way.

The soup, as I said, was great.  The goat arrived in a stoneware pot along with potatoes and vegetables.  We poured the wine and the gentleman from Lisbon, seated at the table beside us, leaned over and told Ann Marie that the wine is homemade on the cook’s farm and is very strong, so please don’t drive afterwards.  He was a really nice guy who said he stops at the restaurant whenever he’s in Coimbra.  And yes, the wine was strong, but very nice.

Remember that we had ordered only a half serving of the goat and a half order of the bean stew.  By the time we had finished the goat, potatoes and veggies, we couldn’t eat any more.  We asked the waiter if we could cancel the bean stew and he laughed and said, of course.  But, he reminded us, that was just a half order!

We really enjoyed the dinner at Ze Manel dos Ossos.  The food and wine were really good, the staff was friendly and seemed to enjoy what they were doing, and the atmosphere was one of a kind.  And, best of all, the bill was half of what we paid at many other restaurants on our journey.  Our new friend was on to something.  Ze Manel dos Ossos would definitely be worth another visit the next time we’re in Coimbra.

Flor da Laranja, Lisbon, March 2018

On our last night in Portugal we had the pleasure of dining at Flor da Laranja, a Moroccan restaurant in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon.

Morocco and Portugal have a history that goes back to the eighth century.  Moorish influence can be seen in architecture and art (Portugal’s famous azulejo tiles are of Moorish origin) and heard in place names throughout the country.  Despite this history, Moroccan restaurants are relatively rare in Portugal.

We asked our hotel to make reservations at the restaurant, which was fortunate, because without a reservation you will not get in.  The owner keeps the door locked and you must ring the doorbell to get in.  If you don’t have a reservation, she turns you away.  There was never more than three groups dining at one time, which allowed for a very personal and intimate experience.

Stepping out of the night and into the restaurant was our first indication that this would be a unique dining experience.  The interior is bright, with lots of flowers and candles, and Moorish-influenced art and furniture.  Moroccan music added to the vibrant atmosphere.

Flor da Laranja
Flor da Laranja

Flor da Laranja is truly a one man- or in this case, one woman show.  The owner, Rabea Esserghini, does it all, from waiting on the tables, to cooking the food, to answering the door.  I asked her about doing everything herself and she replied that it’s not much different from cooking dinner for her family.  A native of Casablanca, she loves sharing her country’s food with her guests.

And the food is really good.  We started with a glass of white vinho verde, or green wine.  The wine gets its name from the fact that it’s made from young grapes, not from its color.  It’s a bit sweet and slightly bubbly.  With dinner Sra. Esserghini recommended a bottle of rosé vinho verde, which was very good.

For the entrees, I chose a stuffed pepper and Ann Marie chose chicken with preserved lemons.  There were several small plates of eggplant, spinach, chickpeas and potatoes, which were all very good.  Sra. Esserghini made sure I didn’t forget about the sauce from the pepper, actually scooping it up and pouring it over the pepper.  She was right.  The sauce was awesome.

We enjoyed our dining experience at Flor da Laranja.  The food was outstanding and it’s obvious that Sra. Esserghini loves to share her culture and cuisine with her customers.  If you’re in Lisbon I recommend you make Flor da Laranja a stop on your journey.  But don’t forget the reservation.