Step inside and you are transported to that little trattoria you saw on the Travel channel. A staff member in a long black apron over a crisp white shirt greets you wish a warm “Buongiorno!” The faint sound of mandolins and accordions mixes with the smell of garlic, onion and warm bread. There is a wall of wine, and a mural depicting sights of Rome, Florence and Orvieto.
This is authentic Italian. The salumi, the black truffles, the cheese. “You cannot have authentic Italian food if you do not use ingredients from Italy,” says manager and Italian native Tommaso Spadafora. The owner if from Calabria, and even many of the chefs are from Italy. Of course the produce and seafood are local, but only to the extent that they support the authenticity of the Italian cuisine. There are no Portuguese dishes on the menu. No Bacalhau or farinheira here!
Choosing an entree is no easy task. Everything looked fantastic. We changed our decision with each plate that passed our table. Everything is made fresh in-house: the pastas, the sauces, even the pizza dough, and of course, the desserts. The gelato is local, but with an Italian stamp of approval.
We started with the house specialty. Pasta alla forma. A simple dish that will leave you wanting much more (though you won’t have room for it). Finished tableside, a steaming pan of spaghetti is poured into a giant wheel of Parmesan. As the pasta is swirled the inside of the wheel (the formaggio) the cheese melts, coating the pasta in creamy, cheesy, wonderfulness. The smell of the melting cheese. The hint of truffle oil. The spectacle was torturous. My mouth is salivating just recalling the event. Plated, over paper-thin prosciutto di Parma the dish is topped with shaved porcini mushrooms. Italian comfort food.
Our second dish came from the weekly specials menu, and it was something I’d never seen or heard of before. Casarecce con cannolicchi. Originally from southern Italy, Casarecce pasta are very narrow, twisted tubes. In this dish, they were stained black with squid ink to go better with the cannolicchi, or razor clams. The clams themselves have an appearance similar to the pasta. The meat is long, thin and tubular. Served with small mussels in a creamy garlic, onion, basil sauce, it was culinary art!
For dessert, we devoured a small chocolate cake drenched in molten chocolate with additional chocolate sauce on the side. Oh my! It was warm, it was bittersweet, and it went perfect with the last of our red wine!
Located immediately across from Chafariz da Praça da República there are few places in Old Town with as much beauty and charm. During the warmer months, the outdoor seating is an ideal place to linger over an espresso or glass of wine. The prices are moderate for the area with plates averaging in the low-teens. If your wallet can accommodate it, they have wines that top out around €240, but there are plenty of excellent choices in the mid-teens. They also have a full bar including several varieties of grappa! They do offer “take-away”, but not delivery…yet.
With a successful restaurant in Rome and two more in Lisbon, the owner told me he had no particular reason for opening a fourth, let alone in Braga. Most would expect Porto or somewhere in the Algarve. So why did he do it? “Because the people of Braga asked for it”, he told me. Over the last 18 years, tourists from Braga have visited his restaurants in Lisbon, pleading for a true Italian restaurant closer to home. And voila, Caffe’ Italy Braga.