Despite frequenting East Cambridge, I’m abashed to admit I overlooked the Snack Bar for years. I couldn’t see past its by-the-numbers American sub-shop menu of sandwiches, pizza, wings, salads, and pasta. I didn’t notice its full name, which might have hinted its owners are from Terceira, in the Azores. As it happens, the Snack Bar serves very creditable versions of Italian-American standbys like eggplant and veal parmigiana subs ($4.50/small; $5/large). But far more noteworthy is the Portuguese man o’ war ($5; $5.50) — not the stinging, floating marine gasbag that occasionally menaces Massachusetts beaches, but a gorgeous dreadnought of a sandwich that piles roast pork, ham, American cheese, and fried egg on a sub roll.
You could get the very decent sweet Italian sausage sub ($4.50; $5) here, but linguiça ($4.50; $5), the spicy, paprika-brightened Portuguese pork sausage, is far more interesting. Greek-style pan pizza ($5.25; $8.25; plus 50 cents–$1 for toppings) is perfectly serviceable of its type, but you’re far less likely to forget Azorean entrées like the superb alcatra ($8.25). Big chunks of slow-cooked rump roast are dotted with cubes of bacon and seasoned with onions, garlic, allspice, and cinnamon: chewy and rich, rounded out with tomato-tinged rice, black olives, a small green salad, and two dinner rolls. A rabbit special ($8.25) features a beautifully tender half-rabbit on the bone, stewed in an herb-flecked white-wine sauce, served with that same rice and rolls. Homey carne de porco à Alentejana ($9.25), a/k/a pork and clams, features four plump littlenecks, a lot of slightly dry chunks of pork loin, and some sliced vinegar peppers in a fragrant white-wine/tomato sauce that demands to be mopped up with rolls or the mountain of excellent, Portuguese-style cubed fried potatoes. Dobrada ($6.25) is another heart-warmer, a stew of white beans, linguiça, and lots of slightly chewy tripe.
The fine Portuguese fruit sodas are by Sumol ($1.25–$1.50), while desserts include Portuguese custard ($2.50), flan-like and pleasantly light in a watery caramel sauce. Don’t get me wrong: the Snack Bar hits its sub-shop marks with skill, clearly a draw for its American neighbors. But I’ll be returning for the kind of dishes I recall from my youth, when my schoolboy pals invited me over to sample their vovos’ (Azorean-born grandmothers’) home cooking. The Senhor Ramos side of the menu faithfully delivers those same hearty, rustic Azorean flavors, and you won’t find those at just any neighborhood House of Pizza.
The Snack Bar / O Senhor Ramos, located at 691 Cambridge Street, in East Cambridge, is open Monday–Wednesday, 9 am–10 pm, and Thursday–Saturday, 9 am–11 pm. Call 617.491.8292.