Not far from downtown Fort Lauderdale, just off busy Broward Boulevard, you’ll find a place where chickens peck in the yard, kids play on tire swings and adults gather at picnic tables to feast on food cooked the old-fashioned way, on outdoor wood stoves.
If you’re Brazilian and nostalgic for the hearty food your grandmother made, you’ve come to the right place.
On Saturday nights, Regina Kátia Martins Rodrigues opens the gates of her fazendinha (little farm) in Sailboat Bend and transports her guests to an earlier, simpler time in her native state of Minas Gerais. Everyone is welcome, but she says about 90 percent of the guests are Brazilian.
Vats of moqueca de peixe (fish stew), chicken and okra, dried beef, rice, polenta, ribs, feijao tropeiro with red, black or pink beans and sausage, and much more bubble on stoves in the open-air kitchen, flanked by a Brazilian hammock, overhead pots and mini rolling pins hanging from the horns of a steer.
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Rodrigues always starts with soup. As helpers pass her pão de queijo (cheese bread), her husband, Elizeu Silva, cranks out glass after glass of fresh sugarcane juice from an iron grinder and cane that a Homestead farmer delivers weekly.
World Cup games
Rodrigues’ limit is 120 people, and she doesn’t cook every Saturday night, so call to confirm. Reservations are a must. During the month of World Cup games, she and her husband plan to set up a plasma TV in the yard — but only for the games Brazil plays.
The couple, who met at seminary in Brazil, came to the United States in 1992 with a plan to stay for a year. But they found a home at the Las Olas Worship Center across the street from their current home. When the former pastor retired, Silva, who also runs a tree service business, took his place.
Rodrigues started cooking for church members on Mother’s Day and other special occasions. That proved so popular that last spring she began inviting the general public for her meals, which are fundraisers to pay for renovations to the church. The suggested donation is $20 and includes all you can eat and eat and eat.
“You will not find a place like this, with this quality of food, at this price, anywhere else. You would only eat like this if you were in Brazil,” said Lou Freire, born in Rio de Janeiro, who has been living in South Florida for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Monica, have been coming to Regina’s since she hosted her first gathering.
“It’s like eating in the back yard of your grandma’s house,” said Roseline, who had driven over from Naples with six friends and family members on a recent Saturday night. “You feel like you’re back home.”
Fazendinha da Regina is definitely a family affair. Silva built the two wood stoves and a cooking pavilion with pots and gourds hanging from the ceiling and stirrup leathers and other country accents suspended from the rafters. Bales of hay that double as seats are placed around the perimeter.
Their sons Caio, 26, and Matthew, 21, help with the guests and pull children around in a crayon-colored train car hitched to a riding mower.
Tomatoes, green beans and collard greens from the garden find their way to the table as do the 10 or so eggs a day that their hens lay.
It is a tradition that is ingrained. Until she was 6, Rodrigues and her family lived on a farm in the village of Coronel Fabriciano in Minas Gerais. The family of six girls and one boy grew up eating from their garden. Although her father was an important man in the village, she was a free spirit and hung out with the cooks and other humble people, sitting around the wood fires, sharing coffee and learning their ways.
Rodrigues honed her culinary skills working in the kitchen at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale. “I learned how to do food for 900 students; I learned to do big,” she said. “I said, ‘One day I’m going to cook for a lot of people.’ Now I get so overwhelmed and happy that people are coming.”
As Brazilian music wafts over the crowd and the lights in the pavilion twinkle, Rodrigues and her helpers begin laying out the desserts. Tonight there are nine, including bolo de coco pega marido (husband-catching coconut cake), flan, corn cake with guava, sugarcane candy, doce de leite, and Romeo e Julieta (guava and cheese).
Rodrigues begins to make the coffee, placing a bar of sugar in water heating on the stove and then using a cloth filter for the final brew.
“There’s a saying in Brazil, the older the filter, the better the coffee,” laughed Denise Mata, who lives in Sunrise and grew up in Rio de Janeiro. “This is the old-fashioned way. It is just delicious.
“This is the fourth or fifth time we’ve been here,” she said. “Instead of a fancy restaurant, I prefer to come here.”