Brasil Legal Cafe, Pronounced “Lay-GOW”

Brasil Legal Cafe

While getting off the subway near my home after work a few days ago, I noticed yet a few more restaurants that had opened for business in the short stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between the roundabout and Diversey Avenue. Sure, that means Logan Square is steadily undergoing more revitalization. However, this also made me wonder what eateries I may have missed in the neighbouring Bucktown. The intersection of Milwaukee Avenue, Damen Avenue, and North Avenue is already a Wonderland of boutiques, cafes, coffee shops, and magnets for hipsters. Still, there could be some enticing spots that are overlooked because the Magic Intersection is “the” draw for the Wicker Park and Bucktown crowd. Well, while trying to find some place off the regular path, I happened by Brasil Legal  Cafe at 2161 N. Western Avenue. Much like my neighborhood, Logan Square, Bucktown has its surprises. And I love surprises.

Guarana Antarctica

Guarana Antarctica

Coxhina e Risole Camarao

Coxhina e Risole Camarao

Because I had arrived early, the main dish that I wanted had not been prepared. I had to wait for the feijoada. That alone told me that I was going to the feijoada cooked to order. So, I decided to have a coxhina and a risole camarão while I waited. When I was in São Paulo and in Recife, I basically went overboard stuffing myself with this very same street food and Brasil Legal Cafe did not disappoint. With a Guarana Antarctica soda within reach, this was a fantastic start to my lunch. And when the time arrived that the feijoada was done cooking, I had a plate of the beans and rice, greens, and farofa. Now, although I’m pescatarian and have been bending rather liberally in my diet as of late, I was aware that the beans had ham hock and sausage in them. But I was okay with that, evident of absolutely nothing on the plate except for gravy when I was done devouring everything.

Feijoada

Feijoada

For those of you who may want to delve into some Brazilian cooking in your kitchen, Brasil Legal Cafe has a small selection of grocery items. As small as the cafe and grocery store is, I spent majority of my time looking at the food that I was scooping up to my mouth and occasionally watching some soccer team giving the Brazilian team a run for their money. What I will say is that as minimal as the menu is, the offerings are still worth a visit. I have had feijoada at a few Brazilian restaurants in and around Chicago. Brasil Legal Cafe definitely dishes up authenticity, very much like Taste of Brasil in Oak Park. Give it a try. After you have your first bite of some of the appetizers or a forkful of one of the entrees, I bet you will find yourself shouting, Lay-GOW, and then giving a thumbs-up. Mark my words. And now if some Brazilians would surprise me even more by opening a cafe in Logan Square.


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Sabor Express, Delicia in Chicago

Sabor ExpressWeeks had passed since I had indulged in some Chicago food happiness. I had been preparing for another personal holiday and then I was gone on the actual holiday. So there was a gap in time with me wandering into some eatery, getting my fill of food, and then stumbling into the streets with crossed eyes, a silly smile, and a satisfied appetite. With summer now being here — although the temperatures have indicated otherwise — I wanted to return to my mode of seeking out fantastic ethnic restaurants in Chicago so that I may entice you, my hungry reading audience.

Coxhinas

Coxhinas

Sabor Express at 1230 W. Taylor Street in University Village was my destination for this day. I had walked past the restaurant a few months ago while going to meet some friends at an Italian restaurant some blocks away. This Brazilian restaurant is not of the likes of those meat lovers paradises where Gauchos serve you endlessly more meat than you may have ever had in your entire life. Only one other Brazilian restaurant comes to mind, one that has a feeling that you have entered someone’s home and been made to feel like you truly belong there. Spacious and large like most American fast food outfits, but far from fast food once you start delighting on the food, Sabor Express after only this first time has become what I will consider a regular stopping ground.

Moqueca

Moqueca

I ordered a Coxhina with shrimp for starters. This popular Brazilian snack is made from shredded chicken, spices, and cheese, stuffed in a shell made of wheat and potatoes and then deep-fried. Although I am still on the vegetarian and seafood regimen, I allowed for the chicken. I wanted to see if the tasty teardrop treat was anything reminiscent of the Coxhinas I had during my days in São Paulo. Yes! They were. After finishing the first Coxhina, it occurred to me that there are not enough eateries in Chicago that have street food only. Quite often you want something very quick, something you can walk up to a counter, order, and enjoy while having a casual stroll to your next destination. In the meantime, I will order a batch of street food from places like Sabor Express.

For a main dish, I had one of my favourite Brazilian dishes — moqueca de peixe. This seafood stew made of peppers, white fish, and shrimp has a flavour that puts me in the mind of some Thai dishes that I have had. Had I not changed my diet to vegetarian and seafood, I would have had feijoada — Brazilian red beans and rice with greens — but I knew that I could not go wrong with moqueca. I often think that food establishments that are far removed from the originating countries merely go through the motions of trying to capture and present a bit of home in the cooking. They minimize their spices to accommodate the discriminating — and sometimes limited — American palate. And then there are restaurants that remain true to tradition and it is evident in the food. This was the case with the moqueca. The natives of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador Bahia, Brasilia, Fortaleza, and other locations would be incredibly pleased that they can find a restaurant in Chicago that will make them feel like they have gone around the corner from their homes.

Moqueca

Moqueca

I am sure that there is a larger Brazilian population in Chicago than what I have come across. Taste of Brasil has a restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, that caters to the palate that loves Brazilian food. There is a woman who also opens her home to the public for the flavours of Brazil. I need to find out when she will entertain again. Of course, there are the meat-excessive restaurants like Fogo de Chao, Brazzaz, Sal y Carvao, Texas do Brazil, and Sabor do Brazil where you can become victim of the lazy buffet syndrome thanks to Gauchos bringing you a constant variety of meats on which to feast. But there is Sabor Express for some of the best street food and some outstanding comfort food when you want to sit and have flavours bursting in your cheeks. If you find yourself in Little Italy or in University Village and have a few dollars in your pocketbook or wallet, walk around the 1200 block of Taylor Street and let your appetite pull you into Sabor Express.

25 June 2011

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