FALL RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS – For more than a century, the cities of Massachusetts have attracted immigrants in search of better opportunities than in their home country.
In Fall River and New Bedford in Southeastern Massachusetts, that influx has included so many immigrants from the islands of the Azores that today it’s believed there are more Azoreans in the Bay State than on the islands off the coast of Portugal.
In Fall River, those immigrants came to work in the textile mills that used to be such a large part of the local economy, and today, the influence of the Portuguese can be found everywhere in the city, including the “Cultural District” along Columbia Street, which offers Portuguese shops, supermarkets and bakeries; the many businesses that boast Portuguese surnames; and, perhaps the most appealing to visitors, a dizzying array of great, family-owned Portuguese restaurants to pick from.
These restaurants are found all over the city — there really is no single “Portuguese neighborhood” in the city, a sign of just how strong the Azorean presence is here. One of the most memorable of those restaurants, though, could definitely be the one found at 408 South Main St., a short walk from Fall River City Hall, where the meals take on a great international flavor and the menu is hard to beat.
The T.A. Restaurant will serve you a wide variety of meals — sandwiches that include Grilled Chicken ($6), Liver & Onions ($6), Cheeseburger and Bacon ($5) or Chicken Fingers ($8), for example. You can get a Chef’s Salad ($7), Fried Calamari ($70, or Pot Roast ($10).
But there are also so many other items on the menu, which happily reflect the cooking styles of the Azores. If you’re smart, you’ll visit here often and try each one.
The native islands fit into the title of several dinner plates, including the Little Necks Azorean Style appetizer — for $10, little necks steamed in onion, garlic and wine. There’s also a Fried Liver Azorean Style plate ($9, marinated in wine), or the Baked Fish Azorean Style dinner ($11, offering a fillet of sole with rice and peppers).
A great delicacy in Fall River, easy to find in local supermarkets, is chourico, a pork sausage distinctive for its smokiness and dark red color from dried smoked red peppers. The T.A. offers several good examples of what can be done with chourico, including a Grilled Chourico appetizer ($10), and a Chourico, Peppers and Onions sandwich ($6, served with French fries).
There are also steaks, including the Steak Portuguese Style plate ($11, served with rice and potatoes), and a Pork Alentajana sandwich ($6, also with French fries.)
But I can tell you this: New England excels at superb sea food dishes, and the same is true for the chefs at the T.A. The menu is diverse: a Bacalhau Assada (grilled codfish) plate for $16, a Shish Kebab of Octopus dinner ($15, served with salad, potatoes and rice), and Seafood Sizzler meal ($16, which comes with calamari, scallops, shrimp, chicken breast, onions and potatoes).
There’s also a Baked Scallops dinner ($14, which comes with French fries and rice), and, for the Catholic faithful in the city, Shrimp St. Michael Style ($11, a shrimp shish kebab with bacon). There’s even Shrimp T.A. Style ($11, sauteed in tomatoes and garlic sauce), and a Fillet of Fish T.A. meal ($9, a fried fillet of sole with salad and potatoes).
But for those who savor a truly excellent stew, try the Stewed Octopus ($15), which gives you sliced octopus and potatoes in a mouth-watering wine sauce. I tried this, along with one of the tastiest Portuguese meals imaginable: Kale Soup. Sampling both during the same visit is a wonderful reminder of just how pleasurable skilled ethnic cooking can get.
There are other delights to be tried here, including an Azorean Coffee — coffee mixed with Brandy, Maracuja, and PassionFruit liquor, and some filling desserts, including Pudim D Ave, which is a mix of fresh cream over crushed maria cookies, topped with egg yoke and almonds, and Rice Pudding made “with an old Portuguese recipe,” the menu notes — and the secret is lemon peel baked inside, and the entire thing topped with cinnamon.
This pleasant restaurant, which seats 130, also has a buffet and full cocktail service at the bar. The restaurant is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 9 p.m.
The Portuguese imported a lot of very hard working fishermen in the city of New Bedford, and a lot of tireless workers in those aging textile mills. They also imported a lot of excellent cooks, who brought along some terrific recipes from the homeland. Let’s be thankful they decided to share with us what they learned on the islands, and passed these recipes down through the ages, all the way to the staff at restaurants like the T.A.
To learn more, call 508-673-5890.
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