The best things in life are organic. Do something by design and the smell of expectation permeates the process.
So when OIB friend Steve Auerbach, resident cuisine aficionado, recommended a visit to Brasa Pub & Restaurant, a Portuguese eatery at the corner of Madison and Robin, I stopped in Saturday afternoon for lunch, the World Cup and an unexpected pleasure. This place is fire, the very translation of its title.
Two large flat screens project the World Cup match between France and England. Bar favorites Brazil and Portugal ousted from the cup creates a conversation of the next best country to embrace.
The owner, Paolo, engages the regulars at the right corner of the bar, three twenty-something Brazilians occupy the far left three seats poised straight into the soccer match.
Fine Portuguese cuisine is a marvel of the land and sea.
I order two grilled tiger shrimp in a spicy white wine garlic sauce, grilled quail, my favorite game bird, with cauliflower, carrots and a side of tangy red dip. The taste and presentation orgasmic.
Nelson, a thoughtful, sturdy 33-year-old Honduran, wearing a UConn sweatshirt takes the seat to my immediate left. Nelson is fluent in English, Spanish and French and can get by with the largely Portuguese-tongued bar crowd.
Nelson arrived here from Honduras just five years ago, an immigration approval not easy during the Trump presidential years. It helped with family here. The Honduran economy, he says, lacks the sustainability to support strong-paying positions. He enjoys a polymathic touch for the region and Bridgeport’s proximity to the wealth of Fairfield County’s gold coast. He appreciates the North End residential area, the restaurant pinched among well-kept yards and homes. Brasa’s parking spaces are not aplenty, street parking obliges, but who needs to drive when it’s an easy walk from home.
Nelson speaks with just the slightest accent largely unnoticeable to detect its origin. He is a regular here, a measure of Bridgeport’s transitional diversity. When once it was largely Europe of the American dream it is now Central and South America.
We talk about soccer’s slow emergence in the United States. It’s finally happening. The World Cup is the behemoth sporting event in the world and the reality is nothing else is even close. Why can’t they just do the damned event every year instead of four? That roar of applause you heard is from every bar and restaurant owner on the planet.
Just when I thought I’d know not one person in Brasa, in walks mayoral candidate John Gomes. Just about everyone there knew him including owner Paolo whose support Gomes has for mayor. Gomes introduces me to Paolo who graciously sends over a tasty shot of Portuguese liqueur.
Gomes makes the rounds saying hello to everyone in the bar. Gomes, an immigrant from Cape Verde, is a language savant: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Haitian Creole, Italian. And I may be missing one or two.
We talk briefly about his campaign’s fundraising effort underway. As the soccer action intensifies on the flat screens, Gomes shoots me a question from the other end of the bar: “What team are you supporting?”
Good grief, Italy didn’t even qualify for the World Cup this year. How do you win the Euro last year and not make the World Cup?
I end my stay with a double espresso and side of Sambuca.
Approaching my vehicle, an SUV has me blocked horizontally in a tight parking area. Hmmm, I look around, what to do. In an instant a young woman flies out the Brasa door to move her car. I pull out and she pulls into the space. We exchange thumbs up. Car positioning at Brasa seems like a rite of passage. And why not, with so many regulars knowing each other.