I went to Samba Brasil Market & Caf seeking an authentic meal. I left with a travel brochure and a pamphlet on etiquette tips for Brazil, a jar of rich coconut and chocolate spread, a block of sweet guava paste oh, and a full, happy belly.
Owner Rich Alvarado doesn't merely feed you in his modest market and caf. He hosts, entertains and educates you on Brazilian culture that is, when he's not also preparing the food and tracking the current soccer match on a TV mounted above the four-table dining area.
Eating at Samba Brasil isn't so much like dining out as it is eating casually at a friend's house. With $6 to $7 entres, the restaurant feels something like street-side vending meets a one-to-no-stoplight-town caf abroad. The simple green and yellow painted walls and market shelves of coffee, chocolates, sodas, canned goods, T-shirts and Brazilian souvenirs are oddly transporting. You'd never feel 50 yards from a Captain D's or Radio Shack, or bustling Eighth Street traffic.
Taking Alvarado's suggestion from a small, two-sided menu, we began our meal with Agua de Coco (cold coconut water in a juice box) and a can of Guarana Antarctica soda. (The guarana fruit's extract is familiar to many Americans as an additive to popular energy drinks.)
That led to a mixed sample basket of pao de queijo (cheese bread of yucca root flour) and coxinha (shredded, spiced chicken dumplings). Both were tasty, especially with ample splashes of hot sauce and garlic sauce from a nearby condiment tray. I'd call them a perfect drunk food, and I mean that as a compliment.
For entres, we selected two slices of Brazilian pizza and the national dish of Brazil, feijoada, a stew of black beans and carne seca (salted pork) served alongside white rice and farofa (toasted yucca flour). The stew's history dates back to Brazil's slave trade with Angola, as the slaves would heavily salt their meat to preserve it, then add it to their beans. According to Alvarado, 210 million Brazilians eat this fare as religiously as they watch Ronaldinho chase the ball.
This version proved to be hearty and satisfying, with the yucca flour drinking some of the liquid to create a pleasantly drier, fork-worthy stew.
The thin tomato-sauce pizza came topped with black and green olives, corn and a thick layer of mild, white Brazilian cheese. It spoke more to Samba Brasil's street-vendor side, with a soft, homemade texture and chewy crust. Another popular street item on Alvarado's menu, he says, is the spertinho-kabobs entre: pork and vegetable kabobs, recommended rolled in accompanying farofa.
I have a standing date to return for the Brazilian stroganoff, which apparently is widely popular. Their version substitutes rice for noodles and is served with white mushrooms and shoestring potatoes.
Samba Brasil also offers homemade soups and a small sampling of desserts, ideally to be consumed with a cafezinho, a strong Brazilian-coffee shot, or other standard coffee drink. We each sipped one of the small coffees and split a dessert of goibada (guava paste) placed atop a sweet tea biscuit called a biscoito champahne. While not overly sweet, it brought to mind jelly on shortbread.
Alvarado originally opened the place to coincide with the World Cup, so people would have a place to celebrate and watch the games. The same spirit today makes the caf a worthwhile destination for a game or a stew.
Samba Brasil Market & Caf
410G S. 8th St., 633-1990
Open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Acai tasting and six-month anniversary party, Friday, Nov. 17 and Saturday, Nov. 18; open with live music until 9 p.m.