Outside of an airy pink wedge of a building off of Praça do Chile, protected from the bright midday sun by an awning with “Fox Coffee” printed on it, we waited with great anticipation for lunch: cachupa do coraçao, a specialty of the house which involves stuffing a leaf of steamed Lombardo cabbage with stewy cachupa and a poached egg. This was our third visit to the so-called “King of Cachupa” and we were working our way through the menu trying to identify what was so different and superior about this cachupa, the signature dish of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony situated off of the coast of West Africa.
Along with the syrupy voice of Cesaria Evora, cachupa is probably one of the most prominent signs of Cape Verde in Lisbon and we’ve eaten it all over town. A stew of beans and hominy, generally decked out with chorizo, blood sausage and various other parts of the pig, it’s hard not to enjoy. But, as we’ve found, cachupa rarely deviates from the standard routine. Tony serves his in attractive red pots and an extra handful of fried onions applied to the refried cachupa were noted with applause around our table. But there’s something more, something unorthodox about this cachupa restaurant that’s hard to define. The cachupa-stuffed cabbage leaf is certainly a sign that something’s unusual at Fox Coffee, and perhaps its creator, Tony Fox, holds the clues.
It was a long, windy road that brought the King to Cachupa, with detours that instilled a strong sense of self-reliance in Tony, and a belief in his own destiny. He was born in central Lisbon in June of 1974, just months after the Carnation Revolution ended the Portuguese dictatorship and led to the abrupt end of the colonial wars and independence for Tony’s parents’ homeland, Cape Verde. They named him Antonio for the patron saint of his birth city. “I’m a boy from the city,” he said. “I’ve never even been to Cape Verde.”
This is what an African restaurant in a European city can be like in the future. This is the new Lisbon.
During the economic crisis of 1981, his family lost their house and moved to social housing in Lisbon’s east which was awash in illegal drugs at the time. Though talented athletically, he ran with a rough crowd and after some scrapes with the police, his father put him to work in construction. But Tony’s ambition led him elsewhere. He moved to Manchester, England, where he worked for three years plucking chicken, and later in London he found work as a bouncer and personal trainer while he improved his English. Finally, he returned to Lisbon to attend to his mother who had fallen ill. “I [started] from zero in Portugal, at thirty-nine years old,” he explained. He got a job working security at McDonald’s, cared for his mother and picked up work as a fashion model. Tony still has further plans in the fashion industry, but let’s cut to the cachupa, shall we?
In 2017, Tony took over the lease on a small cafe in the north of Lisbon that served American-style coffee and pastries, renaming it Fox Coffee. A friend suggested he add cachupa to the menu and promised to bring all of his friends after soccer practice to eat. Cachupa wasn’t part of Tony’s master plan at that time, but he agreed to the dinners. To help him prepare these cachupa feasts, Tony summoned a number of relatives – aunts, cousins, his father – learning each of their tricks as he established his own style, which he describes as a “clean” cachupa. Like most cachupa, Tony’s is based on a selection of three beans and two types of hominy, one paler and one a richer yellow. Though he does cook a vegan cachupa, most recipes call for meat, and he uses only free range chickens and certain cuts of pork which are carefully selected and cleaned. Farinheira sausage is “disappeared” into the gravy, thickening it and adding flavor, while a thin round of almost-black blood sausage brings seasoning and color to the dish. Tony’s cachupa, particularly the cachupa refogada, which serves as the filling for the cabbage dish, is unusually delicious. Refogada is mostly drained of its liquid and then “refried” in a pan, often served as breakfast cachupa with an egg on top.
Since 2019, Tony has been perfecting that recipe in the kitchen of his restaurant in Praça do Chile, where we sat down for the stuffed cabbage leaf. Served with a fried banana and a stick of manioca, the dish was pretty and quite tasty as well, the steamed cabbage mellowing out the powerful refried cachupa within, a citrusy sauce on the side working against the richness of the dish. It was something new, which is not what you usually say after a cachupa lunch. Most Cape Verdean restaurants in Lisbon come from a previous generation of Cape Verdean Lisboeta and are dens of nostalgia, decorated with the Cape Verdean flag and photos of the islands. Fox Coffee, on the other hand, is more enigmatic in its identity. It has a contemporary African look and urban feel and a menu that reflects the changing tastes of younger generations.
“This is what an African restaurant in a European city can be like in the future. This is the new Lisbon,” Tony said.
Tony is determined to realize his dream of expanding his cachupa kingdom to other Portuguese cities and, maybe, to other European cities with Cape Verdean communities. That’s good news for cachupa-lovers of the world and, until then, Lisbon is all the richer with Tony around.