A sense of well-being washed over me when I walked into Heart of Portugal. Something about the brick-and-stucco walls, the wrought-iron chandeliers, the well-spaced tables draped with heavy white linens — it was as if I had wandered, mid-performance, into a long-running play.
Heart of Portugal has occupied this stocky little castle of a building since 1999, when it replaced the venerable Little Portugal. On a Tuesday evening we only saw two other tables occupied (our waiter told us that weeknights were slow) but despite the doldrums, both servers and kitchen were firing on all cylinders.
The menu and the daily specials nodded in New- and Italian-American directions, but we were not there to order veal Marsala or porterhouse with Portobello mushrooms and lobster. We were there for the large portions of gutsy, unreconstructed Portuguese food, and that’s what we got.
The most dramatic of our appetizers was a fat chourica sausage that our waiter flambéed tableside before slicing it into medallions. No less delicious were bolinhos de bacalhau, fluffy little croquettes of whipped cod and potatoes, grilled octopus topped with sauteed peppers, and a restorative bowl of caldo verde, potato soup with shredded greens and sausage.
While we waited for our entrees, we enjoyed a lovely red Kopke Douro Reserva and admired the mural that covers one wall of the main dining room. There were sailing ships that recalled Portugal’s great 16th-Century explorers, a sounding whale, an armored knight, a bullfighter and bull, a castle, a windmill, peasants dancing in front of a church, all of these scenes dominated by the Portuguese coat of arms flanked by grape vines.
Once I saw carne de porco Alentejana (pork and clams from the Alentejo region) on the menu, I knew what I’d be having. This was an improbably delicious dish — steamed clams, cubed pork loin, fried potatoes, rich brown sauce. But it was bested by a swordfish steak topped with four big, tasty shrimp in a light tomato-based sauce. Rabbit stew was a little on the dry side, shrimp in green sauce a little on the bland side.
All was forgiven at dessert, a big slab of flan and a towering wedge of Pavlova — a quivering pouf of browned meringue topped with sliced almonds and a bittersweet caramel.
Prices at Heart of Portugal are eminently reasonable. Entrée-sized apps were all under $10; entrees (most too big to finish) were in the low to mid $20s, fine homemade desserts $6 each.
Heart of Portugal is at 241 Mineola Blvd., Mineola, 516-742-9797.