What’s better than a day at the beach? How about a day at the beach followed by fresh seafood and a cold beer in a vibrant neighborhood with views to boot?
Bar do David sits on a busy corner in Rio’s Chapéu Mangueira, a favela that overlooks the beaches of Leme and Copacabana. On a recent Sunday afternoon, the bar’s two floors and outdoor area were packed with locals and tourists noshing on plates ranging from feijoada de mariscos, a white-bean and seafood take on the classic Brazilian bean stew, to the Estrela do David (Star of David), pineapple-mint pork rib tacos. Owner David Vieira Obispo and his wife, Shirley, hopped from one table to the next, chatting with customers and greeting a steady stream of passing churchgoers and mototaxi drivers.
Obispo, a former fisherman, grew up in the favela and learned to cook from his mother. He opened the bar in 2010 and soon became a darling of the local food circuit. In 2011, his take on the classic tropeiro carioca, a hearty bean dish with bacon, sausage and dried beef, was a finalist at Rio’s Comida di Buteco competition, and he’s been a top contender each year since.
Obispo’s rise came as Rio officials expanded a community policing program that sought to address violence in the city’s favelas and integrate them with the rest of the city. “Bar do David became a poster child for the UPPs,” Obispo said, using the Portuguese acronym for the program. Visitors, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, came to Bar do David to check out the hilltop views and witness a success story in urban policing.
But it’s the food that brings people back.
We came to try the Resurgência (Resurgence), a mélange of shrimp, calamari, mussels, white beans, onions and chili peppers served in a bowl constructed from cabbage leaves. It’s light, refreshing and perfect with a cold beer. The judges of the national Comida di Buteco competition thought so too: it took this year’s first prize.
The next course was the Dubai Carioca, sardine fish sticks (yes, we love sardines) served with a homemade caper dipping sauce. We weren’t sure we had the appetite for the 10-stick serving, but when we asked about ordering a meia porção (half portion), Obispo demurred. “Trust me,” he said. “You’ll lick the plate clean.” He was right.
Dusk set in as we drank our dessert, a caipirinha de paçoca, a delicious concoction of paçoca – a crunchy, peanut-flavored candy that tastes just like the inside of a Reese’s peanut butter cup – mixed with sweetened condensed milk and cachaça.
If Obispo has done well for himself, Rio’s policing efforts are struggling: crime is up citywide and relations between police and residents are tense following recent shootouts in the neighborhood. Obispo says his business is starting to feel the effects of Brazil’s economic troubles as well – the economy contracted more than 3 percent last year.
In spite of these hard times, or maybe because of them, Obispo is doubling down on his investment in the bar: earlier this year, he bought the building that houses the restaurant and opened a second level. “I’m betting on things getting better,” he said.