Portuguese food is so delicious I don't understand why we don't have more Portuguese restaurants and why we can't seem to keep the few we do get. O Tacho closed a few years ago, and now Chave d'Ouro's wonderful spit-roasted chicken is gone too.
But there is good news. Since my mini-review of two years ago, Viena do Castelo has expanded its repertoire of prepared foods significantly, and one of them is another pretty spectacular chicken.
The bird is coated with scarlet piri piri sauce (mild, medium or hot, as wished) which adds a piquant flavour to the skin, and is roasted upright, perched on a half-empty beer can, which releases steam to keep the flesh moist. It usually needs a day's notice and it's a stupendous bargain at $15 for the entire chicken, including enough potatoes to feed four, roasted with the chicken and absorbing the juices and the flavours.
This is basically a grocery store that specializes in Portuguese products, but there is a kitchen in the rear, and four tables in front, lining the big windows, and anything that is available for takeout can be enjoyed on the spot. In fact, the eating-in part of the business has become so brisk, three more tables are about to be added. Your food will come on disposable dishes, but it will be so savoury and satisfying you won't mind.
There are daily specials, usually $5, served between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, though, has the motherlode of prepared foods, and although the choices vary from week to week, many can be ordered for any other day, with advance notice.
There are the makings for a full meal, from beginning to end. You can start by nibbling on fluffy little codfish cakes, or rissois (a.k.a. Portuguese perogies) -- tiny fried turnovers filled with tuna, codfish, chourico (Portuguese chorizo) or shrimp ($l each, or $7.99 a dozen). If you like liver, you'll love the fabulous flavour of the molho de figado -- little pieces of marinated pork liver, seasoned with Portuguese sweet paprika and slow-cooked in wine. It can be served cold, like a pàté, on bread, or hot with rice or potatoes. It's in the cooler, in a 500-gram container for $6.99.
Or you could start with soup. It might be bean and cabbage with chourico, or crab bisque, or Portuguese fish soup. On my visit, it was caldo verde, a smooth puree of potatoes and kale ($2.50 plain, or $3 with slices of chourico). Have it with the house-made chourico, which comes in mild or hot, and is among the best chorizos I've ever had.
Main courses ($5 for most single servings) might be a rich, tomato-based feijoada bean stew with chourico and bacon, or alcatra-braised rump roast in a clear winey sauce; or big juicy chunks of garlicky, wine-marinated pork ribs; or potatoes roasted with chourico. There's always some version of a bacalhau salt cod casserole -- a bras, with skinny fries and scrambled eggs; or com natas, with potato chunks in cream; or gomes de sa, with sliced potatoes, black olives and hard-boiled eggs. Other possibilities include octopus stewed in wine, fried horse mackerel with roasted potatoes, or, for that matter, any of the other fish in the store's freezer.
Some of the Saturday main courses may turn up as weekday specials. Other specials might be a pizza with piri piri chicken and hot peppers or with chourico and spinach, baked fish with potatoes and peppers, or tuna and chickpea salad.
Two terrific sandwiches are always available -- chourico tucked into a bun, with or without mozzarella, or the bifana of wine-marinated sliced pork loin, fried onions optional (and preferable) and hot sauce to taste. There's also a beef bifana, and, sometimes, a Portuguese vinaigrette-dressed tuna sandwich ($3 each, or $5 with soup).
Three breads are made here -- cornbread, waterbread, a longish, crusty loaf (others are from the Lisbon Bakery) -- and they are good. The pastries, though, are superb, and you can make yourself crazy trying to decide which to try (most $1.50, some in a six-pack for $6).
The mocha-iced chocolate cupcake is dark, moist and sensational. The carrot cupcake, unlike the usual hefty slabs, is light and fluffy. Ditto the honey cakes. There are coconut tarts, milk tarts, almond tarts and seductive custard tarts in the flakiest of pastries.
There's one pastry they call a doughnut, but it's more like a jam buster without the jam -- a big, yeasty, sugared puff that isn't too sweet, and another almost-wafer-thin fried crisp dusted with cinnamon sugar (I like them with coffee). They may look plain but the little rounds of lemony madeleine-like cakes are addictive.
Viena do Castelo is a welcoming little treasure, with much of its charm due to the warmth and helpfulness of the staff. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Saturday, to 6 p.m. Friday.
To see the location of this restaurant as well as others reviewed in the Winnipeg Free Press, please see the map below or click here.
Restaurants marked with a red flag were rated between 0.5 to 2.5 stars; yellow flags mark those rated between 2.5 to 4 stars; and green flags mark those rated rated 4.5 to 5 stars. Locations marked with a yellow dot were not assigned a star rating.