Cafe Brazil brings back childhood memories -- minus the pork and beef
Many Americans fondly remember food from their childhood -- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread for lunch, macaroni and cheese for dinner. But those aren't the comfort foods of my youth. Spending seven of my first nine years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, gave me a very different concept of comfort food. Our live-in housekeeper and cook, Congida, made giant pots of feijoada, a black-bean stew prepared with pork, beef or both, which she'd serve up over mounds of white rice.
We ate it at every meal, never tiring of the flavorful dish. For breakfast, Congida would sometimes fry an egg sunny side up, and I'd break the yolk atop the rice-and-bean mixture before mixing it all together in a glorious, delicious mess.
So instead of Jif and strawberry Smucker's, white rice with fried egg and feijoada are the flavors that take me back to my childhood. Over the past couple of years, since raising the vegetarian flag, I haven't been able to enjoy the feijoada my mother makes (she uses smoked sausage to get that authentic Brazilian flavor). In fact, as far as I know, there's only one place in town where you can get vegetarian feijoada: Cafe Brazil, at 4408 Lowell Boulevard.
Just stepping inside the restaurant is a quick cultural trip. The walls are painted bold primary colors and adorned with traditional Brazilian artwork. It's a popular place, and busy, but you should still count on taking your time, enjoying the atmosphere and soaking up the smells and the sounds. (In this way, it's like the bustling city of Rio.) If you're in a hurry, this isn't the spot for dinner. But if you have time for a leisurely look at the drink menu -- which includes caipirinhas as well as an astonishing array of rum flights -- and an even more leisurely look at the dinner menu, then Cafe Brazil is the place for you.
The dining room is usually packed with returning diners, some of whom might not have stopped by in several years and some of whom are Cafe Brazil regulars. On my recent visit, I sat near a table of (mostly roly-poly, mostly out-of-town) businessmen, who were listening to a local proudly showing off his knowledge of the menu, the servers and the owners. (One of his table-mates attempted to order a Captain Morgan mixed drink and was soon schooled in several higher-quality spiced rums to atone for the lack of pirate-themed beverages in the building.) At another nearby table sat five middle-aged women meeting up, a la Sex and the City, to gossip and eat.