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Perhaps nothing epitomizes Rio de Janeiro’s hedonistic approach to cuisine more than a popular deep-fried finger food: the pastel. A bite into one of these fresh, crispy stuffed dough pockets – which range from a palm-sized crescent moon to a rectangle as big as a dinner plate – releases a blow of hot steam that envelops the diner’s face in an aromatic cloud carrying the fragrance of the decadent fillings inside.

In the pastéis served in the city’s food feiras (markets) and snack bars, fillings vary little from the standard ground beef or cheese. But at Bar do Adão, the Ferreira da Costa family have put their “mão na massa” (“hands in the dough,” a phrase that roughly means “getting down to business”) to create an expansive menu with no fewer than 65 types of pastel fillings.

Back when retired engineer José Ibiapina Ferreira da Costa purchased Bar do Adão in the early 1990s as a way to stave off boredom, it was a typical corner watering hole in the middle-class neighborhood of Grajaú. When the bar caught fire in those early years, Ferreira da Costa saw the damage not as a setback but as an opportunity. He bought the butcher’s shop and pharmacy next door and set out to upgrade the space – and revolutionize the pastel market in the process.

Bar do Adão now has 14 branches – they aren’t franchises, as each one has a child or niece/nephew of Ferreira da Costa as a partner – in neighborhoods including grunge-chic downtown Lapa, beachside Copacabana, posh Leblon and working-class Freguesia. “I think there is greater warmth, given that it’s a family business,” Claudia Costa, the manager of the Lapa location and a niece of Ferreira da Costa, says of the chain. “It’s not a mechanical, repetitive thing [to make the pastéis]. They are elaborate and made withA brie, prosciutto and asparagus pastel being made at Bar do Adão, photo by Jimmy Chalk care,” she says. The now elderly Adão – the original owner whose eponymous bar name Ferreira da Costa never bothered to change – even still dines at his namesake joints.

At Claudia Costa’s branch in Rio’s party district, where live samba and electronic music boates play until dawn, the atmosphere is both family-friendly and equally conducive to an evening of pre-gaming before hitting nearby clubs. A few retro Rio photographs hang on the walls, while breezy tables are located on the sidewalk outside. On a busy night, the venue sells more than a thousand of the fried pockets. Most options are savory and feature bold flavors, such as melted blue cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and arugula (called the “Italiano”); leeks, shrimp and a gooey, salty white cheese known as catupiry (a combination they call “Francês”); or shrimp, blue cheese and nuts (the “Nobre,” or noble). A popular new addition is the “Bretagne,” which includes asparagus, raw ham and brie inside its steaming shell. The “Capixaba,” a reference to the neighboring state Espírito Santo, has Brazilian favorites codfish, shrimp, egg, olives and hearts of palm. Waiters press customers to take frosty tall cups of draft beer while they dine.

A heavy menu of Brazilian favorites beyond the pastel includes the escondidinho, a yucca root-lined dish that mixes a meat (shrimp, beef, chicken or codfish) with catupiry, which is topped with grated parmesan cheese to make a crispy seal for the hot dish below. The feijoada, a traditional dish of black beans mixed with pork parts and served with several vegetable sides, is popular at lunchtime, when the line goes out the door with employees from the nearby state oil company, Petrobras, and a telecom company.

Pastéis at Bar do Adão, photo by Jimmy ChalkFor dessert, the jocular Costa says she likes to see clients order the pastel filled with chocolate and strawberries (chocolate com morango), which inevitably leaves even a careful eater with a stream of hot chocolate sauce on their face. The queijo brie com damasco is an equally rich treat, filled with hot, melted brie and sweet apricot jelly.

“The pastel is not a light food,” Costa says, smiling as she states the obvious. “But I have a ‘light’ [health-conscious] public.” Pausing to think, she admits the side salads that come with her meals don’t count for much when compared to a pastel or creamy escondidinho. “It’s a bit of a delusion.”

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Jimmy Chalk

Published on August 15, 2013

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