Local Portuguese Restaurants: Yonkers' Tres Chaves And Mount Vernon's Galitos
Mining the menus at Westchester's Portuguese restaurants.
Photos by Leslie-Anne Brill
“Portuguese sausage lit on fire?” our server suggested. We went with that, sitting in the sunny, empty dining room of Tres Chaves in Yonkers, looking out on the snow-covered patio while Portuguese-speaking men lunched at the bar.
When we asked about wine—not necessarily planning to have any—we were poured such generous samples of a vinho tinto that by the time we'd finished the tannic, boxed stuff (along with bread and green olives), more was a necessity. The guys up front could keep their Long Island Iced Teas and Brave Bulls (tequila and coffee liqueur).
Flames leaping, the chouriço assado (smoked, grilled sausage) arrived in a traditional assador (ceramic pot with grilling rack), charring to black as aguardente velha (a kind of Portuguese brandy) burned off beneath. We gave it a turn with the fork, and just as we wondered whether further action was required, the flames died out and we dug in, knowing this had already made our day, whatever it tasted like. Not your typical ground-meat sausage here, but coarsely chopped, paprika-seasoned pork and pieces of fat, salty but likeable, a staple of Lisbon fado houses. We were brought complimentary small bottles of Portuguese water.
Portuguese restaurants do not abound in Westchester. There's Galitos, near the Mount Vernon East train station, Churrasqueira Ribatejo in Ossining, and this one, on a side street in Yonkers (plus a few Brazilian and Mediterranean hybrids). Grilled, garlicky seafood, chicken, and steak populate the menu. I ordered the house special bacalhau assado (pictured above), knowing full well that I tend to find salt cod too salty. The preparation was wonderful—plated with olive oil and draped with large pieces of grilled onion, with big roast potatoes, slices of browned garlic, green and red peppers, olives, and a large side of collard greens. But the fish was a bit chewy, and, yes, quite salty. My dining companion’s special of grilled short ribs (pictured top, from the lunch/dinner menu), served with rice and fries, could also have been more tender, but it did have a satisfying, homey flavor. We assumed, wrongly, that there would be authentic desserts, but tawny Port made a perfect ending nonetheless.
Once you start exploring Portuguese food, it’s hard to stop. At Galitos, again a crowd of men clustered around the bar, leaving the formal dining room to an older couple. Ceramic roosters (galitos, a legendary symbol of Portugal) are on display. Again, bread and green olives (in a delicious garlic mash, here); again, a generous sample of red wine. When I declined a full glass in the interest of time, I was offered a half glass (imagine!) ultimately on the house.
Here too, the menu is laden with grilled seafood, chicken, and steak. But another dish—açorda de marisco, seafood with mashed bread, olive oil, garlic, egg, and cilantro—sounded like something my mother used to make with stale bread, garlic, and eggs, at the intersection of Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine.
It arrived in a big ceramic pot overflowing with clams, bay scallops, large mussels, and shrimp both large (shell on) and small, topped with poached eggs and cilantro. Digging in, I reached the underlayer of jumbo bread cubes soaked in broth, with chunks of garlic. Some of the mussels were a little overdone, I suppose, and don't be expecting your precision-timed, half-cooked eggs or rare-on-the-inside seafood here. But holy moly this was good—no, great!—and well worth the $20 on the lunch-slash-dinner menu. For the next trip, though, I'm thinking about the $20 Thursday or Friday night buffet, hoping for cod fritters and caldo verde.
Tres Chaves Restaurant
46 Orchard St
29 Elm Ave
(914) 668-0100; galitos.us
39 Spring Street