Out Westheimer between Kirkwood and Dairy Ashford is a little haven of “comfort food”. Yes, Brazil is a land of comfort food… and this small café is a good place to indulge the desire to get away from square plates, Napoleonic presentations and trendy stackable entrees. Portugal left more than a language in Brazil and that laid-back attitude toward life is evident in the food. A few years years ago (they’ve been open for ten+), we enjoyed this little Brazilian café and thought about it for lunch again today. As we parked, we wondered if they still had the traditional and wonderful cheese bread that we still remembered from our first visit here. Antony Palmiera and his Brazilian-American wife Carla have maintained a level of quality in their food to a point that if everyone in the restaurant was talking about me, I wouldn’t know it, as I don’t speak Portuguese (but It appears that many of their customers do).
When in Brazil, do as the Brazilians… and the Brazilian counter to the margarita is the Caipirinha. This icy cocktail is made with Brazilian rum Cachaca, lime juice and sugar. The drink, incidentally, is offered in several flavors at Emporio, including passion fruit, coconut and cashew. The bar is actually geared to produce tropical drinks and the festive cocktails add to the relaxing atmosphere. If you aren’t into tropical drinks, the bartender can pour you a plain old Scotch… or a Brazilian beer or like for me… iced tea.
The basket of bread placed on the table when you arrive is sort of the secret handshake of the Brazilian diner… full of Pão de Queijo, or Brazilian cheese bread. These hollow, light cheesy clouds are the perfect beginners at Emporio and had the food service not been so prompt, they would have been sure to have sold us the additional basket of them for $2.00.
The menu is actually as varied as the regional offerings to be had here and they range from seafood, to beef to chicken dishes… and lots of grilled items. Don’t expect anything even remotely resembling Mexican food… all hot and spicy. Don’t expect waiters wandering around dressed in costumes, ceremoniously delivering grilled beef on the tip of a sword… and don’t expect the high prices that go with the gauchos in costumes, either. DO expect lots of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and delicate sauces. Expect Yucca flour as a condiment, as well as cooked yucca, plantains, white rice and black beans.
Empanadas (pasteis) are over the top here and are a recommended starter. The Brazilian Empanada Platter is what we ordered and while we weren’t planning to stuff ourselves to death at this meal, we were SO happy that we ordered this combination, because we might have missed an outstanding dish if we had ordered individual empanadas. The platter includes one each or beef, chicken, shrimp (if you only order one… this is it, I am told), cheese and hearts of palm. The hearts of palm empanada is traditional… and the shrimp one was so good, according to Sally, I wasn’t allowed into it. I enjoyed drizzling the chile oil on the empanadas… but am not sure that was their idea.
Feijoada (bean stew), if you ask a Brazilian, is hands-down the national dish of Brazil. You really should order it here if this is a learning experience for a curious diner. Remember, I said “comfort food” earlier. We ordered it first and the generous bowl of black beans, pork, sausage, cured beef and pork ribs is really, really rich and is served with white rice, collard greens sautéed in olive oil and garlic (I could live on the collard greens) and fried plantains. Remember that this dish is served with white rice… is meant to be eaten with the rice and is seasoned for the combination of the two. Sprinkling the accompanying Farofa (yucca flour) on it is the usual and it is a pleasant and interesting condiment.
Picanhana Chapa (Beef Tri-Tip)
Next, we ordered the specialty – Picanha na Chapa (Beef Tri-Tip) and, again you will receive a generous serving of rice and black beans. The beef is cooked to order and arrives as it was ordered (medium rare). This grilled beef is, again, a very traditional Brazilian specialty and it is typically marinated in olive oil, coarse salt and garlic… then grilled. It is served with rice, black beans, farofa and French fries. While the tri-tip, along with the beans and attendant farofa are authentic and delicious… I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to the potatoes. It’s a small thing, but I don’t want to rave so much that I sound like a paid PR guy.
We just stopped in for a quick lunch and will certainly be back again. We recommend that you head out Westheimer and give Emporio Brazilian Café a try. The extensive menu, much still untried, is reviewable on their website below. Enjoy!
Phone: (281) 293-7442