Churrascaria is Portuguese for barbecue. In Portugal, and more famously in Brazil, barbecue means meat + fire. That's pretty much it. There is no American BBQ sauce equivalent, just some salt, maybe pepper, but rarely much else. In Portugal, there are large churrascarias that specialize in dishing out plates of steaks, pork chops, split chicken and fish. But there also smaller restaurants that along with serving traditional Portuguese classics like Bacalhau à Bras or the omniscient Bife à Casa, that also serve grilled pork cops, grilled veal chops, grilled steaks and grilled fish (of various varieties).
Churrascaria Marques fits into that latter group. It's located just of I-95 in Cumberland RI, which has a decent size Portuguese community that I think is fairly unknown to most people. The menu, though seemingly similar to most other Portuguese restaurants, is built around the grill. For me, grill is a flavor. There's salty. There's sour. There's bitter. There's sweet. And there's grilled - easily one of my favorites.
As with so many dads across America, grilling was a big deal to my dad. One of his favorites was grilling chicken. He would use a special basting sauce that he'd prepare with olive oil, salt and crushed piri-piri peppers. Note that these were chickens that he had raised himself. I won't get into what it was like as a child plucking feathers off chickens in the hot summer, but I knew it meant having killer bbq chicken all year round, so I was happy to do it. On a charcoal grill, he'd baste the chicken forever, over and over again using (for some reason) large clean chicken feathers tied together like a voodoo wand. This would result in chicken with super thin, super spicy, unbelievably crispy skin that cracked like a Lay's potato chip, and steaming juicy meat underneath. He'd grill in the summer and in the winter. If it rained or snowed, he's wheel the grill half way into the garage to stay dry. He was committed to it. When I'd get home from playing around the neighborhood and saw him at the grill, I'd rush right over to see how it was going, and protect the family meal - just in case! I haven't had this chicken in over twenty years, and when my dad went from a charcoal grill to a gas grill, it was never the same, but without any uncertainty, no other meal ever made me happier. During family parties and gatherings, sometimes he'd grill rabbit or quail (yes, he raised those himself, too) and of course steaks, chops, burgers and hot dogs - all of it yummy. But the lowly chicken was the king of them all.
So I carried these memories into Churrascaria Marques, along with memories of great grilled pork chops I once had in Aveiro Portugal, great grilled steaks I've had in Italy, and grilled fish I've had in Portugal and Greece. It was a special surprise that our server was the owner's young daughter, who proudly and professionally served the guests in her dad's restaurant. Though the facade of the restaurant is seemingly plain, the interior of the restaurant is very reminiscent of restaurants and churrascarias in Portugal, where the sun shines so brightly and intensely, that if there is a single window in the building, every room will be light up. There is this same alert but casual feel inside, even at night.
rissóis de camarÃo
One of my favorite things to eat in the morning in Lisbon is the savory pastry you get in all the cafes. On the outside, the dough is generally crispy, and the inside is filled with chicken, shrimp, beef or sometimes even a cheese filling. They come in various shapes with each shape signifying a particular filling. These also make great appetizers, so we ordered some - rissóis de camarão (shrimp "empenadas"). Then my food memory stated to get the best of me and I ordered some requeijão, which is a soft creamy and spreadable cheese. The flavor is mild, falling somewhere between butter and cream cheese - and the texture somewhere between cream cheese and cottage cheese. I placed giant spoonfuls of the requeijão on small pieces of bread and savored it while waiting for the main course.
Costeletas de Vitela Assada na Brasa and Bife à casa
For my entree, I chose the Costeletas de Vitela Asada na Brasa [Flame Grilled Veal Chops]. You get some fries and plain rice, but this dish is all about the meat. No sauce. No dry rub. Just char marks on a luscious and tender piece of veal. It was great. The charred pieces of meat and fat were all you need to get your mouth watering. Sometimes, it's just best to keep things simple. My friend had the Bife à Portuguesa — a good-looking steak with a fried egg and a simple creamy brown reduction sauce poured all over. It certainly looked pretty good, but I was simply too stuffed to even ask for a taste. And as I think about it, I'm looking forward to coming back and having some grilled fish, too.
I found this to be a very enjoyable meal. The space is pleasant and comfortable. The food is really good. Add fair prices and friendly service and you have a great choice for lunch or dinner in the Northern RI area.
88 Broad Street
Cumberland RI 02864