Memorable | One of the Best
Liberal Club | Fall River Portuguese American Fare
Review by: Michael Stern
New England Portuguese
The Liberal Club menu serves as a primer of Portuguese American fare that thrives along New England’s south coast. Here you feast on such regional pleasures as chourico sausage, kale soup, and shrimp Mozambique. In the extraordinarily colorful culinary landscape of Fall River, it stands out as a unique dining experience.
A Passion for Seafood
Seafood is a special passion of Joe Benevides, who has run the place since 1975. Veins throb in his temples when he gets going on the subject of scallops. It is common, he says, for second-rate purveyors to treat them with sodium tripolyphosphate. That makes them bulk up and look bigger. “It kills, absolutely kills the flavor,” he announces to our booth and the booths around us. “We have the best seafood in the world, right here, from New Bedford. Why mess with it?”
To prove the point, Benevides personally brings out a silver plate of 4 baked dayboat scallops for sampling. A translucent veil of breadcrumbs surrounds each one. A sizzling pool of garlic-charged melted butter blends with fallen crumbs to create veins of crunch on the bottom of the serving dish. The scallops themselves are dense and creamy. Each single one makes a nice appetizer.
When other appetizers arrive – onion rings, stuffies, fried smelt,s and calamari sautéed in garlic, oil, and hot peppers – the waitress asks if we want oil and vinegar to go with them. “You do!” she says when we look puzzled by the mundane offering. Out comes a gravy boat full of marinade crowded with herbs, minced garlic, and chopped green onion. Each spoonful is a savory, aromatic bouquet. Spread it like tapenade across pieces of dinner roll torn from the bread basket.
Where the Locals Eat … and Socialize
You’ll find the Liberal Club in a neighborhood of homes, industry, and business all interspersed. To its patrons, it is more than a restaurant serving Portuguese American fare. It also serves as a bar, a social club, and a function hall. Regulars come for shots and beers in the cool, dark tap room every weekday morning. Couples come on Saturday night for highballs, prime rib, and whole lobsters or fried lobster tails. While the banquet rooms are capacious, the restaurant’s dining room is modest. Its wooden booths are arranged side by side in such a way that a partition can be removed between two, making them into a long table for a party of eight.
When it opened in 1915, The Liberal Club served as a gathering place for local soccer players who had immigrated from the British Isles. The club continues to run the bar, separate from the restaurant. That means you place orders with two waitresses – one from the restaurant, one from the bar – and you pay two checks, one for food, the other for drinks.
|Meals Served||Lunch, Dinner|
|Credit Cards Accepted||No|