Notes from Portugal: Pois Café | Lisbon

 Pois, Café

I’m sitting in my new favorite place — Pois, Café — in my neighborhood, the Sé area of Lisbon. Pois, Café is a hybrid. It’s part pastelaria, serving small sweets and pastries, and part restaurante, offering up brunch, sandwiches, and entrées accompanied by an astonishing sight is this country: a true, honest-to-Alice Waters salad. (Since I’ve been coming to Portugal, salads have been of the limp iceberg lettuce and greenish-red tomato genus.)

Eca de QueirosI first stumbled into Pois, Café, and I do mean stumbled, thanks to a horrifically sprained ankle, on Thursday with my friend Amy, an American ex-pat who’s been living in Lisbon for 17 years. Over the course of two hours, she gave me an insider’s look at the always fascinating, always perplexing lisboetas.

The curiously self-described “café austríaco” had nary a schnitzel or strudel on the menu when I visited. Pois, Café’s nod to Portugal’s heritage, though, can be found in its many egg dishes, the upfront presence of ham and/or pork sandwiches, its excellent coffees, and substantial entrées. On Thursday, I had their bacalhau espiritual, at heart a salt-cod-and-mashed-potato dish with julienne carrots and a molho de béchamel, and, as I mentioned, that surprisingly good salad. Today’s entrée is quiche de atum, or tuna quiche, which is far creamier than its French counterpart.

The décor is flea-market chic: no two tables match, neither do any two chairs. Vases are old medicine bottles, and there’s always a revolving art display hanging on the walls. What I liked most about this light-filled, high-vaulted hangout is its laidback attitude. It even encourages long visits: a working typewriter sits in a corner, if you’re so inclined to dash off a letter to your namorado back home or finally start that novel; the ledge around the café is piled with books in just about every language; and newspapers litter the sofas. Think “Friends” meets the 15th century. In fact, right after I send off this missive, I’m diving into The Maias by Eça de Queirós — the 19th-century classic with an excellent new translation by Margaret Jull Costa, which got a great review in the New York Times.

Pois, Café | Rua de São João da Praça, N° 93-95 | Lisbon, Portugal
Tel/fax: +351 218 862 497
Hours: Open Tues. through Sun., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m
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Photo © 2004 Dario J Laganà All rights reserved.

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