Brazil, By Way of Kenner

New Orleans, La. –
For some travelers, eating like the local eat is an essential part of any visit. I certainly feel this way, and that's because I think it helps us connect directly, intimately with the culture we sought to experience in the first place. It turns out that sometimes you don't even need to travel very far to tap into this dynamic.

Now more than ever, the diversity of New Orleans is more robustly reflected in the array of restaurants around town, and some of these function like clubhouses for the people from those ethnic cultures. Visit, and you get to sample not just the flavors of a certain culture, but its sounds, styles and vibe.

One great example is Brazilian Market & Cafe in Kenner. Now, visiting this tiny grocery and deli along busy Williams Boulevard isn't quite the same as a trip to Rio. But it does offer a capsule of expat Brazilian culture, and a menu of meat pies, some incredibly novel sandwiches and a Saturday afternoon stew like no other.

The place opened in 2006 when owner Greyze Vieira moved to town on the hunch that he could build a business serving the influx of fellow Brazilians draw here for post-Katrina recovery work. Today, men in soot-covered overalls and others in neckties eat lunch beside each other at communal tables, while ladies sweep in to collect take-out orders, addressing the staff warmly in rapid-fire Portuguese. From his busy office in the back, Vieira helps people book airline tickets, handle passport issues and ship care packages home. He leaves the cooking in the capable hands of native Brazilian Suzie Tavares.

The menu is a bit difficult for newcomers to decipher, and details are scant on the printed version. Essentially though, the standard order here is a plate lunch of either grilled steak, chicken or fish, each served with a pile of peppery fries, a salad and a second plate of red beans and rice, which taste a lot like the local Monday classic. I learned from the guys eating beside me to douse everything with house-made bird pepper hot sauce and flurries of farofa, a type of toasted yucca flour. Up by the cash register there's a deli case filled with savory pies. Fried empanadas taste like Natchitoches meat pies, while another that looks like a muffin is filled with minced chicken, carrots and olives.

In the mornings people get ham and mozzarella sandwiches or a bag of hot cheese bread rolls with the stretchy texture of yucca flour. But come Saturday everyone orders the daily special - feijoada, a deeply traditional stew mixing black beans and a motley of pig parts, like a tropical cassoulet. It's a ritualistic dish, with mandatory sides of rice, peeled orange, more farofa and shredded collards cooked with garlic. Watching everyone in the room plow through this homey stew one afternoon, listening to the Portuguese and eyeing up one last meat pie was easy to see why some Brazilian expats feel so at home here.

Brazilian Market & Cafe
2424 Williams Blvd., Kenner, 504-468-3533