Tia Maria’s European Café

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_11

This year I decided to stretch the boundaries of Good Eats: Mundial and cover the 2016 International Portuguese Music Awards (IPMA). The awards show recognizes outstanding achievement in the music industry by international artists of Portuguese ancestry.

It should come as no surprise that a few of the IPMA sponsors are restaurants. After all, if there is one thing Portuguese people are best at: it’s cooking and eating. So that’s what brought me to the door of Tia Maria’s European Café.

I sat down with owner Jessica Coelho to chat about the restaurant, the IPMA’s and the idea of community and what it means to her as a Portuguese-American (PA) woman and as a sponsor to the awards show.

According to Jessica, it was a no-brainer to help support the IPMA’s. After all, how could she turn down supporting a the IPMA’s as a Portuguese-American business owner who runs a Portuguese restaurant?!

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_2

A gorgeous xale (shawl) hanging on the wall at Tia Maria’s. Most of the items on the walls are personal or gifts from family, friends and customers.

“I turn it into a night out for me and my staff. Of course, we stay open – a lot of people will come here to have dinner before hand or dessert and coffee afterwards. But it’s nice to be able to celebrate with them too.”

Another deciding factor in her support of the IPMA’s is the changing face of Portuguese-Americans in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One thing Jessica and I have in common (aside from a great name) is that both of our parents immigrated to the United States from Portugal. Southeastern MA and RI are seeing a huge increase in second and third generation Portuguese-Americans as opposed to first generation, like our parents. They’re younger and are completely immersed in American culture, as opposed to a lot of their older relatives. So there’s a sense amongst first and second generation PA’s to help foster new and modern forms of cultural preservation.

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_3

Pictured: Portuguese palissy ware. Every Portuguese-American has seen these in their grandparents homes or their own.

This immediately brought me back to the idea of community at Tia Maria’s. Speaking to Jessica was a refreshing change of pace from the tired, bored and sometimes forced friendliness that plagues some of the trendiest restaurant owners. She’s as real as they come and it reflects in every aspect of her restaurant: from her food, the service, the ambiance and the décor. Tia Maria’s delivers exactly what you need and want from a restaurant: nothing more, nothing less.

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_7

You’re greeted with a to-go counter – to the left, the dining room and to the right, a small bar.

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_4

The bar to the right.

 

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_5

The entrance to the dining room to the left. Notice the collection of galos along to top ledge, they’re all Jessica’s personal collection!

“During the week we’re definitely more of a neighborhood joint. We have a lot of businesses around us and I know a lot of my customers by name. Between 3-5 we turn into a coffee stop for people. On the weekends we have a lot of tourists who are visiting the Whaling Museum or are from the cruise ships. Then on Sunday’s we have a lot of family’s who stop in usually before or after church.”

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_12

Affectionally named, “Tia Maria’s Living Room” this space is used by people looking to spend some time catching up over espresso and a pastel de nata. Sometimes it’s used for business meetings over lunch. The print above the couch was a gift from Maria Lawton, who Good Eats: Mundial interviewed last year.

I asked about the businesses around her and how she got to know everyone. She told me a story that perfectly illustrated how she’s able to make these connections and how she has been so successful as a business owner.

“We used to offer express lunches, but I took them off the menu. Now we have a reason to interact with our customers when they come in. If they only have 30 minutes for lunch, we can tell them exactly which dishes will be best. For example, don’t order a pizza – it takes 12 minutes to cook!”

By removing the option of mindless ordering and eating, Jessica has created a dialogue between her staff and her customers. That’s how connections are made, and that’s why people return.

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_10

A testament to her connection with customers: to the far right of the image is an orange plate, and to the left of the plate, three glasses. Those glasses are engraved with the name of the restaurant. They were dropped off by a customer as a gift and to this day Jessica still doesn’t know which customer dropped them off. They’re proudly displayed in the dining room.

Another way she connects with her community? Social media.

“I love Instagram (tiamariascafe). I’ll post a picture of a special we’re offering and it’ll sell out the same day. I don’t use Twitter as much. What do I have to say on Twitter? It moves too fast. Instagram is perfect.”

I told her it seemed like she let her customers and community help guide her in how the restaurant ebbs and flows. It didn’t seem like Jessica was interested in forcing anything on her audience.

“Absolutely. I never thought we would turn into a coffee and dessert place at night, but that’s what happens!”

As the customers engage with Tia Maria’s, Jessica looks for opportunity. Of course, don’t think for a second that she is easily influenced or without direction. She knows exactly how she wants to run her business and described herself as a “little stubborn.”

“I’m always open to constructive criticism but there are some things I won’t change my mind on. Sometimes people will tell me I should play something other than fado. They think it’s too sad. You don’t want to go into an Irish bar and hear Justin Bieber, do you? I want fado music playing here. Besides, if you listen to the lyrics it’s not all sad.”

In fact between the fado, the food, the decorations and the cobblestone streets, it’s easy to forget you’re in New Bedford and not in Porto or Lisbon. Jessica is dead on: it sets the tone of the restaurant.

But let’s step back for a minute and talk food. We all know that’s why you’re here. I asked Jessica if she had a favorite dish.

“Our bifana is amazing…it’s so full of flavor.” The bifana is a pan-fried pork steak topped with hot peppers. It’s served on a Portuguese roll with hand sliced rodelas. All for $7.

I ended up ordering the Chicken Moçambique sandwich. The chicken is sautéed in a zesty saffron-garlic sauce, the same sauce used in the traditional Portuguese dish – typically made with camarão (shrimp). The sandwich was served on a freshly made Portuguese roll and served with a side of rodelas. Again, all for $8. The chicken was extremely tender and flavorful, and it was impossible to not dunk the sandwich in the moçambique sauce that comes on the side.

GoodEatsMundial_TiaMarias_NewBedford_9

Chicken Moçambique sandwich ($8).

It’s not very often I enter a restaurant and then leave feeling this good about it. In fact, the last time that happened was probably a year ago in Atlanta. But there’s an undeniable combination of charm, quality and excitement that you get when you enter an establishment like Tia Maria’s. Jessica has put her everything into Tia Maria’s and it shows. We are lucky to have a venue like this in our backyard, and I can’t wait to go back!

 

Advertisements

Foodie Spotlight: Maria Lawton

image

Maria Lawton

 

This weeks’ Foodie Spotlight is on Maria Lawton, author of “Azorean Cooking, From My Family Table to Yours” – the best selling Azorean/Portuguese cookbook on Amazon.com!

I have been a fan of Maria’s for awhile now, but it suddenly dawned on me when I saw her make a cameo in a Portuguese Kids short that she would be the perfect person to feature on Good Eats: Mundial! Duh.

Maria is an Azorean-American who emigrated to the United States from the island of Sāo Miguel (one of the nine volcanic islands that makes up the Azores) with her family when she was six years old. Just like many families, including my own, they settled in southeastern Massachusetts.

image

Azores.

What was wonderful about this interview was that without provocation Maria was able to clearly articulate the feeling and passion around food and community that inspired me to create Good Eats: Mundial in the first place. And although I’d like to think it’s something special to us Azorean and Portuguese people, I know it’s a commonality among people worldwide!

Hence…Good Eats: Mundial.
Mundial – the Portuguese word for “global” or “worldwide”
Get it now?

Maria Lawton’s Contact Information:

Website | The Azorean Green Bean
Facebook | Azorean Green Bean
Twitter | @azoreancookbook
Instagram | @azoreangreenbean
Cookbook | Azorean Cooking, From My Family Table to Yours

image

Azorean Cooking: From my family table to yours

One of the most common questions I get here in Atlanta (when I’m whining about the lack of Portuguese/Azorean food) is “What IS Portuguese/Azorean food? Describe it to me!’ – How would you describe it to the folks down here in Atlanta?

What most people don’t realize is that the Portuguese were such great explorers and were able to bring spices from our provinces in Macau, China; Goa, India and Mozambique, South Africa. We were blessed with fusion cooking long before it became a trendy thing in the cooking industry. Beef seasoned with cinnamon (India) and the spicy malagueta pepper (South Africa) could be found in my mom’s kitchen, from a recipe handed down for generations.  Also through several centuries we were invaded and ruled by the Moors, Flemish, Romans, Germans, Norwegians and the Spaniards with each bringing their way of cooking as well as traditions. So it’s no wonder that recipes from these countries are sometimes so similar to recipes my mom and grandmother would make. Also the name “Farm to Table” another trendy term… is nothing new for us. We lived off the land and ocean and we ate what was in season with absolutely nothing going to waste.

When and why did you decide to write “Azorean Cooking, From my Family Table to Yours?”

I decided to write this cookbook several years after my parents and my grandparents passed away; I longed for my Mom and Grandmother’s cooking. The funny thing in all this is that I never cooked with my Mom. I am the youngest of three daughters and it was my two older sisters that took turns cooking with my mom. I would either be outside with my Dad planting vegetables or tending to the grape arbor or I would be upstairs in our three family home with my grandmother baking. She would bake something everyday, and if she wasn’t baking bread it would be something sweet. With leftover bread she created the most delicious bread pudding. She would also deep fry slices of leftover day old bread. She would dip them in a mixture of eggs and milk and then once fried, she would sprinkle sugar on top. No this is not French Toast! This is a whole new level of fried slices of homemade bread. Other times she would bake cakes or make puddings. Each day after coming home from school I would kiss my Dad and run upstairs to see what wonderful surprise she had for me.  My mom was the amazing cook. We had the smallest galley shaped kitchen but from that tiny kitchen came out the most delicious meals. The wonderful memories I have of eating as a family and sharing these meals together are filled with so much love, laughter and pure joy.  I never thought at that time to sit down with them and get their recipes. I never thought I would lose all of them so close to each other. But as the years passed, I wanted to recreate my childhood memories with my own family. Now I have three daughters and I want each one of them to know the traditions and recipes of their ancestors. I don’t want them to ever forget where part of their family is from.

image

Freshly made Portuguese Rolls. The picture is from Maria’s Facebook page, Azorean Green Bean.

What is your favorite Azorean dish to cook and what is your favorite one to eat? 

I think this might be a trick question! One thing about me is I love to cook and I love to eat. So I wouldn’t cook something I wouldn’t like to eat!! My favorite soup depends on the day. I love turnip greens soup (one of Dad’s favorite too) or kale or collard greens with cabbage. Then in the Fall I especially love pumpkin soup with a bean puree. Then there’s the watercress soup I love in the Summer. I think I’m listing all the soups. Then I love rice pudding. I have nominated myself as the sweet rice pudding expert. I love it so much that when I was young I would ask for rice pudding to celebrate my birthday instead of cake. I love it SO much that I have three recipes for rice pudding in the cookbook. One recipe belonged to my Mom, it’s a very dense pudding. You can actually take a knife to it and hold it in your hand. The second recipe is my from cousin Lauriana which is creamier than my Mom’s and last but not least a recipe from my Aunt Lilia which is the most decadent and creamiest of all. All different textures, but all amazing flavors.

image

Pictured above is rice pudding – or as we call it at my house sweet rice/arroz dolce. The hatch marks you see are cinnamon and the picture is from Maria’s Facebook page, Azorean Green Bean.

What was one of your most memorable experiences from when you went back to Sao Miguel to learn family recipes?  

I love the fact that cooking creates so many memories just by aroma alone. When writing my cookbook it was sometimes a very emotional process. When I’m cooking I’m also recreating food memories. The aroma sometimes can be just incredibly powerful and overwhelming. It has the power to take me back to a place filled with love, as if I’m in my Mother or my Grandmother’s kitchen. That is exactly what happened when I was cooking with my elderly Aunt Inez. She is my Dad’s baby sister. She was teaching me how to make a fish stew recipe and all of a sudden the aroma was so overwhelming, all I could do was cry. The aroma took me back several years. It was one of the last times my Mom had made this dish, and I felt like she was there with me cooking.  It was a very powerful experience and one that I would have over and over again as if she was guiding me along though this journey.

image

These pictures from Facebook are of Maria in Sao Miguel. The first is her kneading dough for sweet bread, the second pulling it apart to portion and the third is it going into the oven. The green thing on top? A kale leaf to keep the top of the bread from burning!

image

These pictures from Facebook are of Maria in Sao Miguel. The first is her kneading dough for sweet bread, the second pulling it apart to portion and the third is it going into the oven. The green thing on top? A kale leaf to keep the top of the bread from burning!

image

These pictures from Facebook are of Maria in Sao Miguel. The first is her kneading dough for sweet bread, the second pulling it apart to portion and the third is it going into the oven. The green thing on top? A kale leaf to keep the top of the bread from burning!

image

The coast of Sao Miguel.

Which recipe would you suggest someone starting out with when they take home “Azorean Cooking, From my Family Table to Yours?”

I have to say our recipes are very simple and easy. They can be a little time consuming but never difficult. Right now we’re dealing with an over abundance of tomatoes so I would suggest page 68. Tomato Sauce with onions and poached eggs would be fantastic. Then with Fall coming page 12 has the Pumpkin Soup and on page 60 is an amazing Roast Beef dinner that’s a perfect pairing for Fall. Then for dessert., you have the rice puddings on pages 82 through 85. Then another childhood favorite on page 92, Milk Tarts! Trust me once you try one you’ll want another. Just remember I have given you fair warning!

* * *

After my interview, I mentioned to her that I was in Atlanta and often times felt extremely homesick. Sometimes living in the South feels I’m in another country where no one speaks my language or gets it (haha). I never realized how disconnected I would feel from home and often crave comfort in the form of Portuguese dishes from my childhood.

She told me that her oldest daughter is in the South now and when she goes to visit she often makes dishes from home. However, Maria reminded me that a lot of her favorite dishes growing up included very ‘Southern’ ingredients like fried pork belly, cabbage, collard greens and even dumplings in soup. It’s all about what you make of your surroundings!

Our ancestors were navigators and explorers before some guy named Columbus ever made his accidental landing on the New World – and Maria is keeping that adventurous spirit alive by making a collection of our history available in a cookbook.

Now, what will I cook first…?

image