Monday, March 27, 2006

Emeril's Roots: A Fall River Food Tour

The Itinerary:
Furtado's (linguica sausage store)
Carreiros Barcelos Bakery
Chaves Market (Portuguese specialty products)
Lusitano (restaurant)

I think it's a good bet that if I asked any of you what you did this weekend, none of you would say "I toured a linguica sausage factory." Well believe it or not I can. Following is an account of my Fall River food tour. I thank my mom and my niece, Kirby, for indulging me on this somewhat odd but highly entertaining pilgrimage.

The other day I was watching a biopic of celebrity chef/restaurateur/Food Network icon Emeril Lagasse. Emeril grew up in Fall River which is about 20 minutes away from where I grew up in Taunton. Both towns, along with New Bedford, are heavily populated with Portuguese people (I often refer to it as the Tri-Linguica area). In the biopic, Emeril (whose mother is Portuguese) spoke about how he felt more Portuguese than American growing up in Fall River. When he was a kid, he washed dishes after school at the local Portuguese bakery. He learned to cook from his mother and a woman named Ines at St. John's Athletic Club, a down-home Portuguese restaurant. He was surrounded by Portuguese food and culture and it has stuck with him to this day. He'll often cook a Portuguese dish on Emeril Live on the Food Network and speak fondly of his childhood in Fall River and what he learned there.

When I was watching this biopic and they were showing his favorite spots in Fall River, I thought that it might be fun to check some of these places out. My mother and I frequently talk about trying to find some great Portuguese restaurants and food markets in Fall River and New Bedford. This was the perfect opportunity. I was on the case. I noted the places Emeril spoke about in the biopic. I did a little research online and found an article from "Food and Wine" in 2000 that listed Emeril's favorite Fall River haunts. I mapped out an itinerary using Google maps, and we were good to go.

Our first stop was Furtado's sausage shop, situated in an unassuming building in a very residential area. When we walked into the place, there was a glass case filled with linguica, marinated pork, chouriço (a thicker type of Portuguese sausage), the usual suspects. But beyond that we just saw some office space. At first my heart sank because I thought we wouldn't get a chance to see where the linguica is made. But then my mother asked the owner, Judy, if the location we were in is where they made the linguica. She said yes and offered us a private tour. Now for a Portuguese person, this is like being invited to tour the underground of Disney World. Needless to say, we jumped on this golden opportunity.

Pictured: one of the smokers used to cook the linguica.
The factory was downstairs from the shop. It was a huge, spotless space with some serious machinery. Who knew making sausage could be so involved. She gave us a tour of the machines - one that grinds the meat, one that works in the spices, one that makes the sausages, one that smokes the meat, and one that shrink wraps the packages. She even showed us the log they have to keep for the FDA that shows the temperature of the meat when they take it out of the smoker and when it leaves the premises. Very involved stuff. And then...the piece de resistance...the linguica. She walked us into the room where the freshly made linguica was hanging (pictured in the photo at the top). Impressive. While it seemed like a lot of linguica to me, when she said they crank out 10,000 pounds a week, clearly this was a drop in the bucket. Judy couldn't have been friendlier and didn't mind our questions or my incessant photo snapping. And this is a woman who has sold her share of the business but continues to show up for work because she's not ready to retire. You gotta love that. Furtado's ships their sausage all over the country so if you don't get a chance to go there in person, you can call or order it online.

Next stop on the Food Tour - Carreiros Barcelos Bakery. Although Carreiros is only a little over a mile away from Furtado's, there is something that Google Maps just didn't take into account. All the one-way streets! If you think there are a lot of one-way streets in Boston, you ain't seen nothing. Every other street is a one-way and it can make for rather frustrating navigating. We finally got on the right track and after ascending President's Avenue (otherwise known as the Seven Hills because you literally climb up seven hills, one higher than the next a la San Francisco), we landed at our destination.

Pictured: Bea with a Boston cream topped sweetbread.
Carreiros is the bakery where Emeril used to wash dishes when he was a kid. In the biopic, he showed where the sink used to be that would be piled high with dishes. The layout may be slightly changed but this Portuguese bakery is still thriving. What an amazing selection of breads, savory snacks and desserts they had. What first caught my eye were the mini sweet breads on the counter, each with a hard boiled egg baked in them. This is a Portuguese Easter tradition. They also had fried cod fritters, large loaves of bread with linguica baked in them, the classic Portuguese mini custard pies (Pasteis de Nata) and much more. We had a great time taking a few minutes to sit down in their cozy café area to sample our tasty purchases.

Next up - Chaves Market, a favorite of Emeril's. Again, we had some navigation issues but I think we had some divine intervention this time around. I stopped at a light, looked to my left and there was the market saying "Bom Dia!" (Hello!). Chaves Market is a Portuguese specialty store with an incredible array of fresh fish, from bacalhau (dried salted cod) and sardines to periwinkles and crabs. The meat selection was top notch too with a large selection and some of the most enormous cuts I have ever seen (Portuguese people love their beef). They even had brain - I draw the line there but they get an "A" for being adventurous. It is obvious that the clientele is mostly Portuguese because they speak to you in Portuguese when you place your order. My mother was fine with it because she's fluent in Portuguese but I was like a deer in the headlights, panicked and had to respond in English. I left with some lovely Azorean-style cheese (very light white goat cheese) that's actually made locally in Westport, MA. My mother snatched up some very lively crabs (we were worried they were going to make a run for it). Definitely a place we would love to return to.

Final destination - LUNCH(!) at Lusitano, Emeril's Mother's favorite restaurant. When we arrived at Lusitano, there wasn't a soul around. Their parking lot was empty, the lights were off, yet the sign said that they opened at noon. Hmm. We knocked and a carpenter opened the door and said the owners hadn't shown up yet. It was a really damp, raw day and we were hungry but we would wait. A few minutes later, an older couple pulled up in their car and yelled out the window "We'll be right there." Whew. We were the first ones in and the only ones in the restaurant for the entire meal. Apparently they are a very busy dinner place but lunch is quiet. That was fine with us. I can see why Emeril's mother would like this place. It's very warm (pictured above w/ my niece Kirby). Dark wood, paintings of matadors all over the walls, low ceilings and an old-school carved bar with martini glasses overheard. And the food...

If you want a light lunch, a Portuguese restaurant probably shouldn't be your destination. Luckily we were hungry. For our appetizer, we ordered this flaming choriço which was delicious. It had a sweet flavor on the outside which was attributed, we found out later, to booze. I swore I wouldn't give away the secret so I can't divulge the type of alcohol they use. We also had their house specialty appetizer, bacalhau fritters (a combination of cod and mashed potatoes). Oh so tasty. We shared entrees that included marinated pork, beef skewers and baked stuffed scallops. As is a custom in Portugal, all dishes came with double carbs - rice and potatoes. With all that food, I had to pass on the starch. Even I couldn't pack all that away. I think my scallops were the best. The stuffing was a combination of bread and seafood and the scallops were fresh-off-the-boat fresh.

Not only was this a tour of Emeril's favorite places but it was a sort of back-to-our-roots trip for me and my Mom and a welcome-to-your-adventurous-Portuguese-culture excursion for my niece. But whether you're Portuguese or not, I guarantee you will enjoy exploring some of these places and others in the Fall River area. There are a lot of unassuming gems in this fishing village. Dare to explore. Just make sure you have a good map.

Fall River Food:

544 N. Underwood Street, 508.679.6781

Chaves Market
49 Columbia Street, 508.672.7821

Carreiros Barcelos Bakery
695 Bedford Street, 508.676.8661

822 King Philip Street, 508.672.9104

We didn't quite make it here (even I can only eat one lunch) but this is where Emeril learned to cook if you want to check it out:
St. John's Athletic Club
1365 Rodman Street, 508.672.6845


Anonymous madeira mama said...

great blog...we did have day of wonders! hope to do it again sometime.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous mansfield manga said...

great times! ditto on the chance to do it again.

10:49 AM  
Blogger jim said...

Try these great portuguese restaurants. O'Gils and Mesa 21. They both have great portuguese steak, littlenecks in garlic and oil, and pork sandwiches.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Mauigirl said...

Great writeup of Fall River, we always stop there on the way and way back from Cape Cod (we live in NJ which also has a large Portuguese population in nearby Newark). We always enjoy Sagres restaurant on Columbia Street when we're there. They have fado music on Friday nights. Definitely worth a visit - and the food is good!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Lynne said...

Thanks Mauigirl. I'll have to check out Sagres sometime. I've heard good things about it.

3:58 PM  

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