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Reader Fare: Feijoada at Favela Grill

When a Brazilian tells you where to get good feijoada in New York, you add the place to your restaurant list and vow to get there someday.

When a Brazilian from Minas Gerais tells you where to get good feijoada in New York, you drop everything and go.

Besides being Pele’s birthplace, Minas Gerais is the second most populous state in Brazil. It’s also the gastronomic heart of the country.

Minas is where cachaça (the sugar cane firewater that makes a caipirinha a caipirinha) was first distilled and where where pão de queijo (cheese bread made with cassava flour) was invented. People from Minas know how to cook – and they definitely know how to eat.

Taxi Gourmet reader Lilian M. is no exception. A stylish mineira who’s lived in New York for the past five years, she knows the best spots in town for Brazilian music and food.

When she’s looking for live samba, she dances over to Miss Favela in Brooklyn on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

When she’s hungry for feijoada – the national dish of Brazil – she heads to Favela Grill in Queens.

Saturday afternoon, I invited Lilian to Favela – an increasingly popular neighborhood restaurant with blazing murals, Portuguese-speaking waiters, and a bar where the TV is always tuned to soccer – ordered a Xingu beer and asked her about the secret of good feijoada.

“Time,” she answered immediately, “We usually invite friends over around 10am, put it on the stove and start drinking. It’s ready to eat around 1 or 2pm. We eat – then we lie down.”

According to Lilian, the so-called nasty bits of the pig – snouts, ears, and whatever offal 19th century slave owners were unwilling to eat – are what give feijoada its soulful flavor and sleep-inducing powers.

Without slow cooking, it would just be pork and black bean stew.

We could taste the slow cooking in Favela’s feijoada. Smoky, rich, and dark, it paired so well with my Xingu – and with all of its traditional sides (white rice, sauteed collard greens and farofa, toasted manioc flour laced with bacon).

We caressed our stomachs as we ate, picking out bay leaves and pushing pig ears to the sides of our plates (“You don’t have to eat them,” Lilian said, “They’re mainly there for the flavor”).

I thought of my grandpa, a butcher who loved pickled pigs’ feet, and wished he could taste what I was eating. She thought of a nap and admitted how much she missed her family, her home.

Even though we were bursting with stew, I didn’t want the meal to end. We lingered over a mousse de maracuya that intensified my addiction to passion fruit and earned Lilian’s approval.

“I’m very proud of my culture,” she said.

She has every right to be. Brazil is where Africa, Europe and Native America collided and mixed for centuries – and where beautiful people, beautiful music, beautiful soccer and beautiful stews emerged in the aftermath.

Feijoada tells some of the story of all that frenzied blending.

For those of us who are stuck in the northern hemisphere, Favela Grill’s version is a tasty introduction (or a faithful rendering). Just be aware that it’ll send you straight to siesta – like any good feijoada should.

Favela Grill
3318 28th Ave – Astoria, Queens
Tel: (718) 545-8250
Open: Mon-Thu,Sun 12pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 12pm-12am
Live music on Friday & Saturday at 8:30pm
Prices: $11.95-$19.95
Credit cards accepted
Note: Feijoada ($15.95) is only available on Saturdays. It’s more than enough for two people (though you may want an extra helping of side dishes, which costs $5).

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