It’s not often that you see flambéed chourico on a menu, but that’s how a meaty appetizer arrives at the table, a sausage split down the middle, sitting in a specially designed pottery dish, and set alight. Flames toast the casing to crunchy, snappy perfection.
And this is just the beginning. Old School House Pub & Restaurant in Hudson serves hearty comfort food from Portugal and the Azores, the archipelago nearly 1,000 miles due west of Lisbon. The restaurant is named for Hudson’s original schoolhouse, built on the site in the late 1800s. Enter by the main door, tucked on the building’s side, and you’ll see contented families passing platters of seafood and barbecued meats. An amiable Portuguese-speaking crowd is bantering with the bartender in the lounge.
In a former incarnation, the spot was known for drawing a rowdy crowd. All that changed when current owner Manuel Santos renovated the place four years ago, and hired Manuel “Bernardinho” Cordeiro, a fine-dining chef from Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azorean islands, to head the kitchen. Christine Santos, the owner’s niece, manages the place.
You learn quickly that when a dish is described as serving one, it really serves two. Portions are that generous. Most are fragrant with garlic, and a dizzying array of seafood is on offer, including some shellfish that may be new to you.
Grilled limpets ($18.95) arrive on a sizzling cast-iron griddle, sauced in butter and plenty of garlic. These shallow-cupped sea snails, grilled on the half-shell, offer chewy nubbins of meat, like miniature escargot. They are from the island of Madeira, but the kitchen also procures this delicacy from the Azores. A less exotic (but no less delicious) platter of cheese and prosciutto ($10.95) piques appetites when sprinkled with a dash of piri piri, a zippy bottled hot sauce. Caldo verde ($3.95), a warming traditional soup, is full of shredded kale and chourico, satisfying on a cool fall evening.
Octopus vinaigrette salad ($11.95) combines morsels of the tender cephalopod with onion, red bell pepper, parsley, and a wonderfully tart marinade. Garlic-grilled calamari ($14.95) features whole squid so large that dining companions refer to them as “squid steaks.” Seared and delicious, the dish arrives with a filling salad of black-eyed peas.
Bacalhau — Portugal’s famous dried, salted cod, soaked in water or milk to restore moisture, then cooked a variety of ways — has its own section on the menu. Cod fish on Portuguese clay ($18.95) features three substantial pieces of the white fish, resting on a bed of sliced onions stewed in olive oil, topped with crumbled sausage and, inexplicably, ordinary salad croutons. This dish, toothsome and rustic, arrives in a terra cotta trough that resembles a Spanish roof tile. The cod, even reconstituted, offers a drier texture than a fresh fillet.
Two appealing fish dishes are the Azorean fish stew ($16.95) and the traditional seafood rice ($18.95), both simmered in a garlicky tomato-enriched seafood stock. The fish stew features bone-in pieces (you can ask for boneless), with shrimp, mussels, and sliced potatoes. In the rice dish, the tender white grains are not apparent until you plumb the bottom of the vessel. Topped with chunks of lobster, the stew is so abundant that with a single serving, we have leftovers to take home. Alentejana pork ($15.95) is made with cubed meat, fried potatoes, and clams. You can either appreciate that the meat is very lean, or crave a fattier cut.
The house Portuguese red, made from the dark-skinned castelao grape ($4 a glass, $8 a carafe) pairs delightfully with these dishes. And a traditional dessert called malatof ($4.95), a light-as-air meringue pudding infused with burnt sugar syrup, offers a sweet finale.
At a table nearby, parents and children are digging into these classics with gusto. The rowdy behavior has been replaced by family friendly fare and delicious sausages licked by flames.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com.