Nestled beneath the Feena Boutique — a clothing shop specializing in Portuguese trends and accessories — you’ll find Broa Cafe, a restaurant so small you could easily bypass it. And that would be a shame, because Broa Cafe deserves your attention. For starters, it has a constantly changing menu. Not a seasonal menu (many restaurants offer that nowadays), but rather a daily menu. So what you order on Monday may or may not be available again on Tuesday. I don’t think it’s possible to get fresher ingredients than that. Broa is also one of the very few restaurants I’ve been to where the owner personally greets and tends to every table. Make no mistake, Broa Cafe is charming, unique, and delicious.
I visited on a recent night for dinner and immediately took a liking to the restaurant’s theme. The decorative tchotchkes make you feel like you’re visiting your Portuguese aunt in Lisbon, but the open kitchen and delicious aromas remind you that you’re in fact inside a restaurant. There are no paper menus at Broa, instead you’ll find a chalkboard with the day’s specials. I was lucky enough to sit near the board, but others had to walk up to see the specials, which I imagine could lose its charm if you’re the indecisive type or if you have questions about a certain dish. (Personally, I wouldn’t mind a small paper menu each day or having a bigger chalkboard/menu above the kitchen).
Although the space is small, the tables are set comfortably apart from each other. There’s also a communal table in the middle and outdoor seating up front. The music and noise level is also low, so it’s a great spot for first dates or catching up with friends. For dinner, we tried the chickpea salad, cod fritters, cockles, and cauliflower gratin. Some of our main plates came out before our starters, but once you realize that all the plates here are small and meant to be shared, it really makes no difference. In terms of size, however, even the entrees are small, so getting four or five plates for a party of two sounds about right.
The cockles were delicious, but eating them was comical in the sense that there wasn’t much to eat. (They were the small dime-sized variety). Many of the shells were empty and the meat was so tiny that it almost made me wonder why I ordered this entree in the first place. Then you get to the broth and realize, this is the reason why. It was light with a salty, ocean-like finish. Paired with just the right amount of garlic and onions, it was tastier than the freshest little neck clams I’ve had. (Although I’d say clams are definitely more filling). The chickpea salad was also a hit and possibly the biggest-sized plate we had. My personal highlight, however, was the cod fritters, served crisp and golden with a wedge of lemon. The cauliflower gratin was substantial, but could’ve benefited from a little more flavor or spice.
Broa is BYOB, so our total bill was very low. In fact, our four-plate dinner was just shy of $50. However, I was still hungry when we left, and on that particular night, there was no dessert option.
My only major complaint about Broa was that at no point did we get an explanation of the menu. Had I not known beforehand that the menu changes daily or had I not been already familiar with Portuguese food, I might have had a different experience. In fact, the restaurant doesn’t even have a website (aside from its Facebook page and unattended Twitter account), so it’s difficult to know just what you’re walking into. Also, if you have dietary restrictions, the only way of knowing that day’s menu is by literally walking into the restaurant and looking at the menu board. (Posting the menu on Facebook each afternoon could easily solve that). Ultimately, I think Broa should be boasting about the freshness of its ingredients not just on its Facebook page, but in person to its customers. Tell me how fresh or rare those cockles are, brag about the perfectly executed cod fritters, make me want to order every dish on your menu.
However, despite the few drawbacks, Broa’s charm, innovative kitchen, and affordability make it a destination that warrants a visit if not more.
Broa Cafe | 297 Grove Street (btwn Wayne & Mercer) | Facebook