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Restaurant review: Primavera Cafe Restaurant in Ludlow

A community with well-established Portuguese-American traditions, Ludlow supports several Portuguese restaurants. A relative newcomer to that array, Primavera Cafe Restaurant occupies a small building at the intersection of East and Hubbard Streets. Inside the space has been decorated in Iberian style, employing motifs such as clay tile cornices, a trompe l' oeil "window" that looks out onto an imaginary seascape, and even a diminutive second story balcony. The menu at Primavera concentrates on traditional Portuguese-American favorites. Appetizers, for instance, include Chourica Assada (flaming sausage -- $7.50) and Camarao a Casa (spicy shrimp_ $9.50).

Main dish selections range from seafood specialties such as Bacalhau a Marinheiro (cod in red sauce -- $16.50) and Camarao Recheado (baked stuffed shrimp -- $16) to meat-based entrees like Carne de Porco a Alentejana (pork with clams -- $16) and an egg-topped sirloin steak (Bife a Portuguesa -- $19.50). Complementing the possibilities derived from Old World traditions are Lamb Chops ($22.50), Baked Stuffed Shrimp ($16), and Grilled Chicken Breast (14.50).

Having worked the restaurant beat long enough to be familiar with Portuguese restaurant fare, we focused our knife and fork efforts on that aspect of Primavera's repertoire.

An order of Pasteis de Bacalhau ($7.50) introduced us to the great flavors and good value that characterize the Primavera experience. The pasties (cod fish cakes) had been attractively molded into crescent-moon shapes, then briefly fried. Under their golden brown exteriors they offered a moist, savory center that underscored why the dish endures as a popular comfort food. Flecked with finely minced parsley and garnished with black olives, the cakes made for a great starter. Pork was long a staple of the Portuguese diet, and flavoring it with paprika or massa (salted sweet pepper puree) were classic preparation strategies. At Primavera, thin sliced pork (Febras -- $13.50) is thus seasoned before being brasied in a wine-and-garlic-based pan sauce. The result is savory, ever so slightly spicy, and downright delicious. Our other entree, Mariscada ($23), is Portugal's salute to the sea. A sort of seafood casserole, the mariscada at Primavera features clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, and a half lobster all simmered in a sauce built from tomatoes, onions, green peppers, celery, paprika, and olive oil. Served with buttered rice, the dish is feast-like in proportions; the rich stew "base" is tasty enough to eat with a spoon. Definitely the best version of this dish we've enjoyed in quite a while. Entrees at Primavera come with buttered rice or thin-sliced fried potatoes; a cup of soup is also included. A hearty vegetable stew was being served the evening we dropped in. A Daily Vegetable ($2.50) is available as a side dish option, as is a Tossed Salad ($2.50). Primavera Cafe Restaurant is fully licensed, with a convivial little stool bar operated out of the dining area's back section. The restaurant offers an extensive selsection of wines, many of which are Portuguese bottlings rarely seen elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley. Prices are affordable, with only a few bottles pegged above $45. Homemade desserts featured at Primavera include Bolo de Bolcha (a sort of Portuguese tiramisu -- $5), Cheesecake ($4), and Chocolate Mousse ($3.50). We, however, decided on the Pudim Flan ($3.50). A generous wedge of rich egg custard infused with caramel and a hint of citrus, the flan had the silky character that only a master cook seems able to produce. A wedge of Almond Torte ($5) was an equally impressive way to wrap things up. A dense layer of buttery almond cake was finished off with a caramel-sugar crust of toasted sliced almonds. A first rate dessert, especially when enjoyed with a good cup of coffee. Service at Primavera was friendly and welcoming; more akin to being received in a private home as honored guest than getting treated like just another customer. At lunch Primavera serves a small selection of hot entrees priced and portioned for midday enjoyment. Several Portuguese sandwiches, such as the Bifana (pork cutlet -- $6.50) and the Prego (steak sandwich -- $8.50) are available as well.

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