Madeira, famous for it's fortified wine, perfect year-round climate and the Guinness Book of World Records largest New Year's Eve fireworks display, is an autonomous region of Portugal made up of two main islands, Madeira Island and the much smaller Porto Santo Island. The islands are located in the Atlantic just over 600 miles southwest of Portugal and only 300 miles west of Morocco's African coast. Funchal is the capital and the largest city in the region. Its separation from mainland Portugal and other Portuguese territories has allowed the Madeiran cuisine to develop it's own unique character. On the menus of most Madeiran restaurants, you should find signature Madeiran dishes and ingredients such as carne de espeto (steak on a skewer), scabbard (a local fish) and polenta are just a few examples.
Café Funchal, in New Bedford, is a Portuguese culinary experience in a very American setting and atmosphere. Walking into the building, I was immediately struck by it's size. Café means coffee shop and which conjures up visions of a a small intimate setting with little tables in tight spaces. The name Café Funchal is misleading because inside it just the opposite. On the left is a large bar area with lots of tall tables and stools, multiple huge flat screen TVs on the walls behind the really long bar and lots of people. Straight ahead is the more tranquil dining room, decorated in a more modern aesthetic than I'm used to for a "Portuguese" restaurant. And further back yet, is a event hall behind what appears to be a glass wall, already decorated for whatever party was coming up next. This is a not a cozy and quaint family restaurant reminiscent of the old world and it's traditions. This is very much an American restaurant. This is a restaurant for children of Portuguese immigrants who are now grown-up Americans looking for familiar food in a setting that is more of their generation. I think this is the first "Portuguese-American restaurant" in New England. This is a place where non-Portuguese diners will be completely unaware of the ethnic origins of the restaurant, were it not for the menu. This is a young, comfortable and lively place. I can imagine a full house at the bar area on "game night", eating Shrimp Moçambique while watching Cristiano Ronaldo play with the Portuguese national team at the World Cup. As different and as unexpected as Café Funchal was, I was completely comfortable and at home in this new experience.
So, let's eat. There is a surprisingly good wine selection here with plenty of international wines, many offered by the glass or in demi-bottles. I ordered a half bottle of a small boutique Portuguese wine, Qunita de Cabriz, from the Dão region of Portugal. It was a crispy, fruity and spicy wine that really brought out the flavor of the favas and chouriço appetizer we had. When in Rome, do as the Romans... so I ordered the Carne de Espeto, six large grilled chunks of sirloin beef, served on an iron skewer and hung at the table. It was as delicious as sirloin can be. I didn't care for the fried potatoes that were a bit dry and flavorless to me. My friend loved the Steak Funchal, which is grilled and smothered in mushrooms — and the plate was wiped clean, so what does that tell you. I've read some negative reviews online about this place, and we did experience some small inconveniences. Our waitress was very nice, attentive and pleasant. However, the kitchen made a small mistake with our order and was a little slow to correct it. I think these are small things that can be corrected. Some of the prices are slightly higher than average, but most items on the menu were certainly within a very reasonable and affordable range. My overall feeling is that this is a unique and potentially great place for a lot of people - whether it's a group of guys catching a game, a bunch of couples out on a Friday night, a nice family lunch or dinner on the weekend - Café Funchal is a good choice for all those occasions. If you like Portuguese food, but would like a more modern and American experience, Café Funchal is might be your next favorite restaurant.
123 Church Street
New Bedford MA 02746-1842