It was a cramped but iconic tasca in the heart of Lisbon’s downtown. Its name, Adega dos Lombinhos, disclosed the house specialty: grilled lombinhos – thin slices of pork loin. And we mean really thin, almost if they were slices of wet-cured ham, served with a fried egg on top, white rice and golden fries.
But it wasn’t the rice, the egg or the fries that made it special. It was the slender, delicate, hand-cut slices of meat. It was the miscellaneous crowd that chose to have lunch there daily: bankers and construction workers, marketers and shoe shiners literally rubbing elbows at the few available tables. It also was the charm of not even having coffee – “this is a tasca, not a coffee shop,” they would say – and only one dessert on the menu: a homemade arroz doce (sweet rice pudding), which was top notch, by the way.
Six years ago, the whole building was sold. The new landlord planned to turn it into a hotel and demanded that brothers Eduardo and João Amorim, the owners of Adega dos Lombinhos, move their business elsewhere. The hotel was never built, but the tasca did in fact move.
Eduardo, the elder brother, took this opportunity to retire, while João, the younger brother, wasn’t ready to quit working. At first he took jobs at other restaurants, but later opened his own place in Penha de França, near the top of one of the city’s hills. He called it O Abrigo (“The Shelter”). It was an apt name: there he found shelter from property speculation and wannabe hoteliers – even though no place is absolutely safe in Lisbon these days.
Luckily, João had been the man in charge of cutting the famous lombinhos at the old venue. His knife is still sharp, we must say. When the generous portion (four slices for €7) is put on the table, memories of the good old days at Adega start to flow immediately. It’s almost as if nothing has changed.
It was an apt name: there he found shelter from property speculation and wannabe hoteliers.
But it has. Unfortunately, O Abrigo doesn’t have the same old school tasca vibe that made Adega dos Lombinhos such a special place. Physically speaking, at least. Because it looks just like a standard neighborhood coffee shop/snack-bar, with a long counter and a display case filled with pastry and desserts: the arroz doce is now just one option out of many. And yes, there is also coffee available too. “Actually, a lot of neighbors come here now just for coffee,” João says.
Tables are spread out through the odd-shaped dining room, and the lunch rush that took place daily at Adega doesn’t happen anymore around here. Things move slower in Penha de França, because it is, essentially, a residential neighborhood and most clients aren’t in such a hurry anymore. The time of rubbing elbows with workers from all walks of life over lunch is gone.
João looks to have settled in nicely, though. “The clientele has changed. But every now and then I get a call from an old client asking how to get here,” he says. He is still serious about cutting those loins and always serves them with an undeniable pride. “You won’t find lombinhos like these anywhere else,” he maintains. But don’t mistake his straight face and small mustache for any sort of hostility: he is always ready to crack a joke and welcome new clients.
The old ones will recognize that he’s not the only familiar face around. Hung on the wall is a vintage poster that João brought from Adega dos Lombinhos. It depicts a white bearded man, advertising a wine brand called “Velhinho de 99 anos” (99 year old man). Let’s just hope O Abrigo lasts as long.
Editor’s note: This piece is part of our regular feature, Tasca Tables, which covers Lisbon’s tasca scene. Tiago Pais is the author of “The 50 Best Tascas of Lisbon.”