Primavera Pub is easy to miss. Despite following the directions given by the woman’s voice on my iPhone, accompanied by the woman’s voice emanating from the passenger seat, I still drive right past it. It’s located just north of the Newington town line in Hartford, and sits off Newington Avenue a bit in a former VFW building behind the smaller space it used to occupy.
There are no signs, by the road or on the restaurant itself, and there are no windows anywhere near the entrance. “Are you sure this is it?” is asked more than once. The only inkling I have that we’re at the right place is that I’m standing in a nearly full parking lot. I finally see a sign that says “Welcome!! New location of Primavera Pub.” It’s on the sidewalk pinned against the building by a road cone. For a place that’s easy to miss, a lot of people sure have found it.
Chef Joe Moreira has been churning out authentic Portuguese cuisine at Primavera Pub since 2002, when he came on board six months after the restaurant initially opened. Moreira bought the business four years ago and moved it into the old VFW lodge this past June. The original location was constrained by a tiny kitchen and no room to wait for a table — and this is the kind of place where you gladly wait for a table. Moreira designed the interior of the new location to include a large, rectangular bar area cordoned off from the dining room by a half-wall. He says it’s reminiscent of traditional restaurants in Portugal.
Seafood is the focal point of the menu. Moreira started working when he was 11 years old, spending time in kitchens along the coast in Porto and Espinho in northern Portugal. The coastal cuisine of that region where Moreira honed his craft has fully influenced the Primavera Pub menu — lots of fresh fish, high-quality meat, garlic and wine.
We enjoy a bottle of Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas, a Portuguese red wine, throughout the meal. For starters we order two tasty cod cakes (75 cents apiece) that remind me of knish from a midtown Manhattan street vendor. My wife orders the grilled 12-ounce ribeye and chooses broccoli rabe and saffron rice as her sides. A generous, delicious cut of beef with two sides for just $16.50 in this state is so rare it’s red in the middle.
I pick the picadinho com camarao ($17.50), which is pork, beef, sausage, peppers and onions with shrimp. Paired with saffron rice and resting in a savory broth, it’s the closest thing to jambalaya this side of Louisiana. The portion is easily large enough to save some for lunch the next day, but that’s not gonna happen on my watch. My second side is a chickpea salad with tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime, and every spoonful is a flavor-punch in the mouth. A double or triple portion of that salad would serve as a perfect lunch.
For dessert we take turns devouring a light, creamy almond torte ($3.50) and banana caramel cheesecake xangos ($6.50). The xangos are flaky, fried pastry tortillas filled with cheesecake, banana and caramel and served with vanilla ice cream. Perfect endings to a perfect meal.
283 Newington Ave., Hartford
860-953-7411, on Facebook
Hours: Tue.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Mon.