Our stop-off at “A Casa” in Santa Luzia was unplanned, but their blackboard listed a range of tempting petiscos (the Portuguese equivalent of tapas). This appealed to us, as we were peckish, but not sufficiently hungry for a full meal.
For those that don’t know the East Algarve, Santa Luzia brands itself as the “capital of octopus (polvo),” so it was unsurprising to find a range of octopus dishes on the menu.
Service was quick and friendly, and we ordered a selection of snacks to compliment the bread and queijo fresco that immediately appeared on the table.
Again, for those unfamiliar with such things, queijo fresco is a light cheese, rather like set cottage cheese, and supplied as part of the pre-meal couvert in many Portuguese restaurants. Queijo fresco is often rather tasteless, and needs rescuing with copious amounts of sat and pepper, but this was a goat version with a slightly stronger flavor than usual – a good start!
We started with a plate of cooked prawns, served simply with rock salt. The menu suggested these were local, and they were light in colour and tasted of the sea—a pleasing change from the rich, sweet varieties typically sold in the supermarkets. They were a little small, however, with not lot of meat remaining once shell and vein were disposed of. Still, they were tasty and disappeared quickly.
We followed our prawns with a generous serving of conquilhas – tiny cockles served hot in their shells in a simple butter, coriander and garlic sauce. Restaurants serve these in much the same way across the Algarve, and the difference between good conquilhas and bad is how well the chef has purged the bi-valves of salt. Sadly, these has some remaining, resulting in one in three causing a nasty crackle between the teeth—a shame, as they were fresh and delicious.
To finish up we figured we would have to finally try the local octopus. I’m sure we have eaten it before as part of a shellfish rice or cataplana, but the time had come for us to order it specifically.
The option we chose was octopus in a feijoada (bean stew.) Interestingly, I was uncertain after my first taste, but by the end of the dish, I was rather sold. Good feijoada is perfect comfort food, and this blend of octopus, butter beans and chorizo was bound together with a thick, but not overly rich gravy. As I commented to my wife at the time, this is a dish that, at some point soon, I am going to specifically crave, in the same way I have come to crave two other Portuguese dishes: bacalhau a bras (saltcod with potatoes, onion, egg and olives), and arroz de pato (duck rice).
As this was only a quick snack stop, we didn’t hang around for desserts, and our bill was suitably small, around 25€ for the items mentioned above and a half-bottle of white wine. “A Casa” in Santa Luzia didn’t blow us away, but there was nothing we ate that wasn’t perfectly pleasant, and served with a smile. For that reason I recommend it as a solid choice for a simple meal.