When Sergio Porreca packed up his family and left his native Venezuela almost thirty years ago, the last thing on his mind was to go into the restaurant business. For one thing, he had no experience. Sure, he was a great cook; for years, his friends and family had raved about his culinary creations. But a home cook is a far cry from a chef. Many years would pass before a seed would be planted, germinate and finally blossom into reality.
Their destination was Braga, the childhood home of his wife, Cristina. When they arrived with their sons César (10) and Christian (7), the young couple went to work in the auto manufacturing business. Later, Sergio went into the construction trades while Cristina went into teaching and childcare. Hardly the training ground for future restaurateurs. It wasn’t until the economic downturn of 2013 that the couple (now joined by their adult son, César , and long-time friend, Francisco “Chico”) that the winds of change began to blow.
While Christian remained working for a tech company in Braga, the other four headed across the English Channel to a little start-up restaurant in Clacton-on-Sea. Quite ironically, a Tex-Mex restaurant…in England…staffed by Portuguese! They threw themselves into their new world. In just four years, they went from the most entry level tasks to eventually running the restaurant! New jobs, new industry, new cuisine, and a new country! Food service appealed to the team. They enjoyed the immediate look of gratitude shown on the faces of their customers, and they liked making people feel welcome and at home. But it wasn’t their business. Then fate stepped in again.
It was late 2018 when Christian, now himself out of work, came across a shuttered restaurant only meters from the front steps of the Braga Cathedral. With good bones, a decent kitchen and an ideal location, the team decided it was time to return home. For weeks, the old spaced hummed with new life. Frantically the team attacked the space with paint brushes and hammers. They stocked the shelves and scrubbed the floors. All while being fueled by experiments from the kitchen. With the fear all business owners feel, they opened their doors to the public on January 18, 2019, and crossed their fingers.
One would expect a slow start, especially in the cold, post-holiday weeks of January. But such was not the case. Their first night drew a packed house. Followed by another and another after that. At first it was mostly bar business, but soon, guests realized that there was food to be had. And good food at that. Food that was different. With an entire second floor of available seating they could have easily doubled their business, but so too could they have ruined it. “All the dishes are order-made,” explains Cristina. “And with a small kitchen, that means things can get backed up.” Their years in the UK taught them the importance of customer service. To ensure that customers do not feel forgotten. Wisely, they chose to not open their upper seating area, choosing instead to focus on a smaller crowd, and thus anchoring their reputation for quality service and quality food. Their efforts were not in vain. Remarkably, in less than 10 months, they were ranked the best restaurant in Braga and #4 (out of 4,000) in all northern Portugal!
It is said that the most successful actors have a trifecta of talent: they can act, sing and dance. In business, it is said to be product, market and timing. In real estate, it’s location, location, location. When it comes to restaurants, it seems the best places are family run operations sharing their favorite comfort foods in a great location. pPlace (or Porreca’s Place) has it all.
You won’t find Francesinha or Bacalhau on the menu. “They are too local,” explains Christian. “Both dishes are so well known in Portugal that everyone has their favorite version, and if they do not like yours, that is all they will remember. They will never come back and they will tell everyone that all your food is bad. We have better options.” Drawing from old and new, Sergio and Chico create comida caseira – comfort food! One of their signature dishes is based on a recipe handed down from Sergio’s Italian father: Lasagna Bolognaise. Layer upon layer of rich meaty tomato sauce and creamy ricotta cheese topped with gooey mozzarella. The portion can easily feed two, or one with a serious appetite. Another house favorite is the BBQ ribs. A nod to their years at the Tex-Mex restaurant, these spicy baby-back ribs are slow-cooked until they are fall-off-the-bone tender.
It’s not a vast menu. There is a small selection of tapa-like appetizers, the entrees including the aforementioned dishes and a nice selection of home-made desserts. They do not try to be everything to everyone. But what they have will warm your soul, and their service will make you feel like you are home. And that is the secret of pPlace.