Fall River is known for its Portuguese population, and by extension, its Portuguese food. Sadly, tragedy struck one of the area’s bellwethers when Sagres Restaurant – one of the oldest and most popular Portuguese restaurants in the city – burned to the ground two years ago. Finally, after a long and arduous re-building process, Sagres has re-opened its doors. However, past patrons will be surprised at what they find.
The former building was non-descript – a restaurant on the ground floor and apartments above that blended into the streetscape of Columbia Street. The new Sagres is a shiny, modern beacon in a neighborhood that has historically been a hub of Portuguese life in the city. The interior is impressive – radically different than the dated, traditional looks of similar restaurants and much more akin to what a new restaurant in Portugal would look like today. Fortunately, the one constant is the excellent food.
When it comes to appetizers, there are two things that will be difficult to avoid – garlic and carbs. You might feel guilty about this, but at least your breath and diet will go down in a blaze of glory. As a baby step, start with the Queijo De Cabra ($8) – homemade, soft goat cheese with crushed red pepper garnish. The cheese is very soft and mild, so you’ll want to put it in a fresh papo seco (Portuguese roll). The red pepper garnish adds a bit of saltiness and kick. This used to be an off-menu treat available upon request, but its popularity has turned it into a menu staple.
There are several seafood apps to choose from, but the protein is secondary – it’s all about the sauce. Sauteed shrimp comes Alinho style ($11) with olive oil, garlic, white wine and a touch of picante sauce or Mocambique style ($11) with garlic, lemon and crushed red pepper. Sauteed littlenecks are available Bulhao de Pato style ($11) with olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley and broth or in an Espanhola ($11) tomato bouillabaisse sauce. You can’t go wrong with any option, but if you need some guidance, the littleneck dishes are probably a little lighter and the shrimp dishes more garlicky. No matter which you choose, make sure you have a full basket of papo secos on hand because you’ll be mopping up every last drop of sauce.
For entrees, it seems like everyone who has been to a Portuguese restaurant has tried some version of Bife a Portuguesa ($15/18), a sirloin streak with red pepper and a fried egg or Carne de Porco a Alentejana ($16) with sautéed cubes of marinated pork with littlenecks and potatoes. If you’ve had them before, I suggest you try something else at Sagres. Not because Sagres has inferior versions – theirs are quite good – but because there are too many other good options for you to expand your dining palate. If you’re a rookie, having a craving or just plain stubborn then, by all means, indulge in a steak that completes the carb trifecta of bread, rice and French fries in one sitting. But for the love of God, at least go with the hand-cut round Portuguese fries.
One of my favorite dishes is Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa ($19) – a baked dish of salted, boneless cod fish with onion, potato, olive oil, garlic, black olives, chopped boiled egg and fresh parsley. As with some of the other dishes on the menu, the price at first glance seems a bit high. However, portion sizes generally make up for it, and you’ll be able to take home with you another meal’s worth of food. This works out well for the Gomes de Sa – it’s served hot out of the oven, but it’s even better the next day when the ingredients have had more time to soak together.
I also recommend the Paelha A Valencia ($22) – lobster, shrimp, littlenecks, cod, calamari, mussels, chicken and chourico simmered with rice, carrots, peas. If you’re feeling a little more modest (or healthier), the Peixe a Portuguesa ($18) and Peixe Antonio ($18) are excellent choices. The former is fresh cod baked in a tomato-based fish stock while the latter is a “catch of the day” lightly grilled and finished under the broiler with garlic, lemon, white wine and red pepper. Not only are these dishes inherently lighter, they’re a good opportunity to swap out the usual French fries and/or rice with a side of greens, vegetables or boiled potatoes.
If you have room for dessert (a big “if”), Sagres offers several traditional Portuguese desserts like homemade Flan Custard and the highly underrated Passion Fruit pudding. There is also a selection of Port wines, an excellent end cap to a hearty meal. If you’re planning a visit, scope their Facebook page in advance for a sense of which specials appear on which days (Tuesday = grilled octopus!). Short of crossing the Atlantic, there’s no better way to get a taste of Portugal.
177 Columbia Street