Portugal — the very name of this country calls to mind thoughts of explorer Christopher Columbus and his voyages that led to the discovery of the new world. For most of us, that is about the extent of our knowledge of this European nation nestled next to Spain on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
Thankfully for our geographical knowledge and our taste buds, Bela Lisboa opened this summer on the North Shore, bringing a Portuguese and Mediterranean flavor to the ever-expanding dining options in the Scenic City.
Located on Frazier Avenue near Veteran's Bridge, Bela Lisboa has a rustic look in its cozy location. There is a small bar area near the back and plenty of seating, usually in two- or four-person seating arrangements.
The restaurant is light and open, giving the sense of a European setting while still feeling somewhat modern, reflecting owner Joe Vagos's background owning restaurants in Portugal and Romania.
› Where: Bela Lisboa Restaurant, 417 Frazier Ave.
› Hours: 4:30-10 p.m. daily
› Prices: $4.25 for gazpacho to $19.95 for surf and turf
› Alcohol: Yes
› Phone: 423-682-8365
› Online: www.facebook.com/belalisboarestaurant
The fare offered at Bela Lisboa covers many different types of food and many different ways to serve food.
Starters and main courses include seafood dishes as well as chicken, steak and pork. While not exclusively Portuguese in its menu, the food is all reflective of the southern European style of food, with lots of fish, pork, vegetables and potatoes.
The menu offers two interesting styles of food service in addition to more traditional plated foods. Espetadas, or skewers, of food are grilled and delivered to the table, where they are hung from racks to be removed from the skewer by the customer. Espetadas feature a variety of meat from shrimp to sausage and steak.
Additionally, steak, shrimp and other seafood are served Na Pedra on a heated stone with vegetables and potatoes. As the meat sizzles on the stone, the customer can turn the meat and cook it to the desired level of heat, then enjoy the meat as it comes off the heat.
There are also traditional dishes, including a northern Portuguese dish called Francesinha, which is an open-faced sandwich with pork, sausage, fried egg and cheese on toast topped with classic Francesinha sauce.
It should be noted that prices are extremely reasonable for the quality and variety of food offered at Bela Lisboa, with most, if not all, entrees being under $20.
For my meal, I chose to salmon on the heated stone as well as Lombo de Porco, a pork tenderloin glazed with orange and port wine reduction. Both dishes were freshly prepared and served quickly. The pork tenderloin in particular was perfectly cooked so as not to be dried out from overcooking, and the glaze was amazing.
Preparing the salmon on a hot stone took some getting used to, but by taking the sliced fish and turning it on the stone, I was able to prepare the meat to my preference quickly while having a bit of fun playing with my food.
As an appetizer, the Camarao Piri Piri was perfect — six shrimp sauteed in a spicy garlic sauce that was just the right amount of heat.
The sides of vegetables, potato and rice were also fresh and well-done, and garlic bread was served with the meal.
The staff at Bela Lisboa was amazingly friendly and helpful. The waitress was knowledgeable about the menu and made good suggestions about what to get. She highly recommended the Francesinha, so I will have to make a return trip to try the Portuguese dish in the near future.
The manager, from Italy, also made a point to visit the table and ask about the meal. He said that Bela Lisboa has gotten off to a good start since opening at the first of the summer, but he hopes to continue the growth and add a more useful website to attract more customers in the future.
Portuguese food is not something one often thinks about, especially here in Tennessee, but Bela Lisboa brings something different to the expanding restaurant choices available in Chattanooga.
The food was prepared very well and presented in unique ways, making a return trip to Bela Lisboa something I intend to do very soon.
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.