Portuguese flavor in Manassas

First slide

With only a handful of Portuguese restaurants in the metro area, Alice Pires has a golden opportunity to showcase her native cuisine at Carmello's in Manassas. With more than 20 years in business, this upscale destination offers a limited selection of classic Portuguese dishes that includes spiced black cod and caldeirada de mariscos, a hearty seafood stew. Her Portuguese wine selection includes more than 100 options from such Portuguese regions as Douro and Alentejo.

A native of Viana do Castelo in northern Portugal, Pires moved to the United States with her family when she was 18 years old. "We moved to Mineola in New York," she said, "and that was our first home in the United States. My parents did return to Portugal."

Because her brothers worked in a construction business in Manassas, Pires and her other siblings moved to join them in the mid-1980s. Eager to have her own business, Pires purchased Carmello's, an all-Italian restaurant at the time. "Then in 1993," she said, "we thought, 'Why not introduce Portuguese food to the community?'"

To succeed, Pires hired a Portuguese chef, and for several years, she and her family ran a restaurant that was part Portuguese and part Italian. The Portuguese part of the menu must have been too unfamiliar to many patrons, so by 2009, management decided that Carmello's would become a more upscale seasonal menu that would reflect a blending of cuisines. In 2010, Pires opened a casual eatery, called Monza, next door to Carmello's.

Pires loves her native cuisine, especially since she literally grew up in the kitchen. "I was always involved in cooking," she said. "Of course, as one of the youngest, I got lots of training." Now as an adult, Pires admits she loves food and has a passion for cooking, working with her restaurant chef to perfect the menu.

Raised in a devoutly Catholic household, Pires said that her family of nine children went to Mass every Sunday and followed all the steps of formation. She attended an all-girls Catholic school.

Inspired by her faith, Pires works in her local community, either with donations of time or money.

"I believe in giving back to the community," she said, noting that her home parish is All Saints Church in Manassas.

To that end, she cited two of her favorite charities: CASA in Prince William County, which helps neglected and abused children, and SERVE, a shelter for the homeless in Manassas.

Greeley, a freelance writer, chef and parishioner of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, can be reached at cookasia@verizon.net.

If you go

Carmello's, 9108 Center St., Manassas, Va. 703/368-5522. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. nightly.

Arroz com Marisco

Served at her restaurant, this is a signature Portuguese seafood-and-rice dish and uses many typical Portuguese ingredients. Pires noted that the rice has a "sticky texture, similar to Italian risotto." Yellow rice is available from such producers as Goya described as "Spanish-style yellow rice." Alternatively, look for recipes on the internet for rice that is colored yellow by the addition of turmeric or saffron to the cooking water.

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Serves 6 to 10

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup white wine

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

4 cups fish or chicken stock

2 cups yellow rice

1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed clean

1/2 pound clams, washed and clean

1/2 pound prawns, shell on

1/2 cup green peas

Pinch paprika

Lemon juice to taste

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and sauté the onion and garlic until golden and tender. Add the wine and tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 5 minutes until the mixture reduces. Add the stock and rice, cover the saucepan, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the rice is nearly tender. Add the mussels, clams, and prawns, and cook 5 minutes more. Add the peas and paprika, stirring them in well.

Increase the heat to medium and cook about 15 minutes more, or until the seafood is cooked through. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and serve hot.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014