Earning its ethnic loyalty
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 17, 2010

CAMPINO’S | 401.438.5800 | 218 Warren St, East Providence | Sun-Thurs, 12-10 Pm; Fri-Sat, 12-11 Pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access
I rely a lot on my lumberjacks, as Dylan called them — specialists who can fill in my culinary ignorance. So when a foodie friend suggested we have lunch at a little East Providence hole-in-the-wall he called the best Portuguese restaurant in Rhode Island, who was I to say no? He used to have his own restaurant, in Portugal, no less, so he got my attention.

Campino’s bills itself variously as a restaurante churrasqueira (barbecue) and as a sports bar, but its claim to local fame is as the former. It’s unassuming, its dining area as casual as granny’s kitchen, with Windsor chairs and no tablecloths.

The appetizers on the menu are mainly variations on shrimp and littlenecks, the shrimp available sautéed in sauces of curry and cream or garlic and a lobster base. But this was just lunch, so we only started off with Portuguese soup ($3.25). The variation here has kale, of course, but also cabbage, kidney beans, elbow macaroni, and lots of pork, making for a hefty broth.

The lunch menu is a good array of regular dishes in smaller sizes, priced $8.99 to $10.99. My friend Stuart’s friend Mario, who is Portuguese-American, was perusing the dinner menu he was well familiar with, so I was curious about what would pull him away from the lighter fare. Also a regular here, he went for the polvo grelhado ($13.99). The grilled octopus was surprisingly tender, judging from my sample from the four thick, crispy-edged tentacles. Two slices of red bell pepper were added for color against the sautéed baby spinach and boiled potatoes. Mario also had the off-menu blood sausage, a dense, black portion with a crispy casing. It was slightly sweet — with nuts and honey, it’s sometimes served as a dessert at Portuguese restaurants, he said.

Other grilled seafood regularly listed are salmon, swordfish, cod, and shrimp ($14.99-$16.99). There are two seafood combinations, mariscada ($16.99) and paelha ($17.99), the latter differentiated mainly by the rice being mixed in instead of on the side.

Across from me was a gentle contrast, a shrimp omelet ($8.99), compensation for a long previous night of eating and drinking. It was large, apparently composed of three eggs, well-parsleyed, and contained enough shrimp for some in every bite. Filling out the plate was a salad, heavy on the cucumbers.

As for me, I had been looking forward to the Friday-only lunchtime buffet, served 11:30 am to mid-afternoon. Being both a cheapskate and curious about the possible extremes of restaurant mini-margins, I’d been fascinated by Stuart saying that it was only $10 — no typo. That is even more remarkable considering that most of the five dishes were heavy on meat. What’s offered does change, to give the regulars variety.

One of the dishes was on the menu. The frango no churrasco ($11.99) is barbecued chicken, with a light and spicy sauce. It was smoky from the charcoal grill and still quite moist, served on this occasion with french fries.

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