Samba by the Slice
I grew up in a part of Connecticut where the favorite local pizzas were what we called Greek-style, a shallow-pan pizza with tangy sauce baked so well-done that the cheese would turn golden brown and toughen in a good way. Chicagoans will rhapsodize about cakey, deep-dish pizza, and New Yorkers hold a certain kind of thin-crusted, foldable slice close to their hearts, where it proceeds to drip oil onto their shirts. If you grew up somewhere with distinctive local pizza, you never stop craving that hometown or neighborhood style.
On a recent weekend afternoon, I was out with my Brazilian-born girlfriend and her parents in Pompano Beach, where they like to stock up on Brazilian groceries, speak Portuguese, and go for lunch at one of the Brazilian restaurants in the area.
By chance, heading east from Dixie Highway on a curving, mostly residential side street, we drove past a blink-and-you'll-miss-it strip mall painted in Brazilian yellow with a sign for BrasMania Pizza and Restaurant (1940 NE 49th St., Pompano Beach, 954-354-0762). "Look," I said. "A Brazilian pizzeria."
After a brief debate in Portuguese from the back seat, I had orders to turn around, and we pulled into the 2-month-old pizzeria done up in polished dark wood and more of that sunny Brazilian yellow. We settled in, and after talking to husband-and-wife owners Ilma Paula and her husband, veteran pizza-maker Antonio Ribeira, the Brazilians among us ordered two medium pies ($12.95 each). The first was the Portugueza, with hard-boiled egg, corn, hearts of palm, onions, peppers, olives, and ham. The other, which hasn't made it onto the menu but gets ordered often anyway, was the frango e catupiry, or chicken-and-cream-cheese pizza, a tomato-less pie topped with shredded chicken, corn, mozzarella, and the runny cheese spread you can find sold in juice glasses at Arab and Brazilian grocery stores.
Both pizzas were indeed delicious, different, and unmistakably Brazilian, with a less garlicky bite than most pizza, even when there was tomato sauce. Just as the charred, yeasty crust at a traditional brick-oven pizzeria goes well with assertively spicy, chewy toppings like sausage and pepperoni, BrasMania's thin, flaky, slightly sweet cracker crust went perfectly with the mellow flavors of egg, corn, cream cheese, and the tenderest chicken I've ever had on a pizza. That same crust is no doubt well-suited to the chocolate- and guava-and-cheese-topped pizzas that double as desserts. I could see why the Brazilian contingent could hardly stop raving between bites: It tasted like home.
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