As you walk down the cobbled street known as Travessa de Sta Marta in the historic city of Evora you will come across a doorway with an antique gas lamp swinging above a sign that says. ‘Taverna.’ From the outside it looks like any other house in the Alentejo with its white-washed walls and yellow ochre edgings. Outside the portal are a couple of decorative plant pots painted in yellow and a deep stone step.
Having stepped over the step you find yourself in one of the smallest restaurants in Portugal. These two small rooms that are squeezed together are part of the former convent of Santa Marta. Both rooms have been well restored; stone walls decorated with illustrations of all the squares in the city of Evora and a vaulted ceiling suited for hand painted frescoes.
Apart from that there isn’t a lot of space for anything else – not even a wine rack although there is a small wine list recommending well chosen Alentejo wines. They are obviously stored somewhere else. Tables and chairs are tightly packed together which gives the restaurant a cozy if sometimes claustrophobic feel. A charming Portuguese couple run the restaurant; Luis and Rosario Dias. Luis is the front man who loves to tend to the customers and talk about the food and wine of the region whilst his wife is out back cooking the simple dishes of the Alentejo.
There are lots here to tempt you. The petiscos are always appetising – chickpeas with Portugal’s favourite salted cod, bacalhau. Olives are delicious, usually the burnt purple ones, not as soft as black olives but definitely have their own strong taste. Sometimes wild mushrooms are on offer and always ask for the sheep’s cheese or smoked pork sausage (paio).
Main courses come next and a favourite with our family is migas (crumbs). This dish is a true Alentejo meal consisting of either fried bread, breadcrumbs or sometimes slices of bread fried in lard, flavoured with asparagus and paprika flavoured pork. It really is delicious.If you don’t like the sound of that dish then try the beef spare ribs, cooked slowly in red wine and local honey, or pork with potatoes and clams, flavoured with pimento and fresh coriander leaves.
Remember to save some space for a dessert. The eggy, cinnamon taste of the flan, sericaia, served with small fat greengages bursting with a lots of flavour and such a sweet juice is a favourite pudding from the Alentejo region.
Taverna is a simple restaurant and the décor is stylish but not too fancy. Prices are very reasonable between 15 and 20 Euros for a three course meal with a bottle of wine. Helpings are enormous and you will walk away feeling very heavy so a good walk around the old city is adviseable. The restaurant is easy to find, close to the theatre square but remember not to visit on a Monday as it is closed.