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Newcomers invigorate the Cape

Vibrant influences from the immigrant population add spice to nightlife, culture, and cuisine

Email|Print| Text size + By Kathy Shorr
Globe Correspondent / June 6, 2004

HYANNIS -- At the Brazilian Grill, a man dressed like a gaucho, complete with leather hat, comes to the table bearing a long skewer of grilled marinated meat. He flashes a huge carving knife, asks if you would like some, and slices layers of sirloin steak, which you capture with a small set of tongs.

A minute later, another similarly clad waiter appears with his own skewer of boneless leg of lamb. Then there's a third. They keep this up over the course of the meal, offering slices next of flank steak, filet mignon, bacon-wrapped chicken organs, pork tenderloin, more sirloin, more filet mignon, some lamb shish kebabs, and on and on.

At the buffet table you help yourself to black beans and rice in gravy with infusions of ham hocks and salt pork, oxtail stew, collard greens, fried bananas, fried yucca, and other traditional Brazilian fare.

Somebody at a table in the corner is having a birthday, and the waiters walk out with a piece of cake topped by a lighted candle and break intoa rendition of ''Happy Birthday" -- in Portuguese.

This is Cape Cod?

Of course, you can still get a bowl of clam chowder, fried clams, and a dip cone at many places here, but in the last few years the Cape has begun offering a dizzying array of foods from other countries, thanks to new immigrants.

According to the Barnstable County Department of Social Services, about 5 percent of permanent Cape Cod residents were born in another country. Most of those who arrived in recent years have come from Eastern Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The largest wave, though, speaks Portuguese -- with a Brazilian accent.

''When I came in 1987, there were less than 300 Brazilians on the Cape," says Carlos Barbosa, who left Rio de Janeiro for a two-week vacation on Cape Cod and moved here shortly after. Seventeen years later, Barbosa has a painting and contracting company in Hyannis. ''The 2000 census for Barnstable County [which covers all of Cape Cod] showed about 12,000 Brazilians now living here. We think the total now is maybe 15,000 to 17,000."

This sounded like an inflated number to many, Barbosa says, until Brazil won the 2002 World Cup. There was a public celebration in Hyannis, and it felt as if every one of the 15,000 to 17,000 Brazilians showed up.

''You should have seen the town green," remembers Lynne Poyant, director of the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce. ''There were Brazilian bands playing. It was wild-but-organized chaos!"

Portuguese has been a sort of second language on the Cape for centuries. Starting in the 1800s, men and boys from mainland Portugal, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands came in large numbers to work in the Cape's whaling and fishing industries. Many settled here.

Immigration from Portugal dwindled in recent decades, but the influx of Brazilian immigrants has brought the sounds of Portuguese back onto the streets.

Barbosa says abundant jobs in the hotel, restaurant, and construction industries have provided work for Brazilian immigrants. Many have settled around Hyannis, close to many of those jobs. Some, like Barbosa, have started their own businesses. The community now includes a number of Brazilian churches and educational and social service agencies. There's a Brazilian interpretation agency, as well as Brazilian medical personnel. Around Hyannis, two authentic Brazilian restaurants have opened, as have a bakery, grocery store, and clubs featuring live music and dancing.

According to Barbosa, many of his countrymen emigrated to the Cape from southeastern Brazil from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. These days, he says, more come from southern Brazil, bringing with them traditions like ''churrasco," a barbecue of grilled meats served on skewers. (Brazil was the first South American country to import cattle, in the 1500s).

One who's brought the Brazilian barbecue to Hyannis is Maximiliano de Paula, who opened the Brazilian Grill in 2000. De Paula keeps his restaurant open seven days a week from late morning to late evening, attracting a busy mix of Brazilian and non-Brazilian locals and visitors. In addition to the grilled meats (order the BBQ and you'll get a dozen or more choices delivered to your table), there's a large buffet table. Saturday nights, feijoada is served, a tradition in Brazil. Considered by some the national dish, the Grill's variation is a black bean and rice stew that ''contains every part of a pig. You might not want them named!" says de Paula's wife, Kelly.

Just a few blocks away is Hyannis's other Brazilian restaurant, the Back Yard Buffet, which also keeps long hours and serves a big crowd. You can pile a plate with typical dishes like ''bacalhau." The Brazilian Bakery and the Perfect Plate, a nearby bakery-restaurant, specializes in traditional Brazilian baked goods like rosqinhos, ''biscoito," and ''pao queijo," and serves rice and beans and other dishes, too.

''Today's special is chicken parmesan and spaghetti," says co-owner Sabino Barroso, ''but it's Brazilian style."

Dinner often lingers until well after 10, but that's early for many Brazilians. Barbosa says the trick is to take a long nap before heading out for the night. Brazilian dance parties start up sometime after 9 every weekend. On Saturday nights in winter at the Mill Hill Club in West Yarmouth, music is provided by Boston-area Brazilian bands, or an occasional Brazilian DJ. Sunday nights year round, Kendrick's in Hyannis has a DJ and Brazilian music from 9to 11, and live bands from 11 until 1 a.m. If you're not up on your samba, lambada, or salsa, Barbosa says to come anyway: ''They'll come to ask you to dance with them and help you out."

Brazilian is only one of the cultures on the Cape. Also in Hyannis is a quartet of Eastern Europeans making a name in the food business through their bakery, Pain D'Avignon. The name is deceptive. Pain D'Avignon is owned and operated by four men of various Slavic backgrounds, who grew up together playing marbles on the street in Belgrade. In the early 1990s, they left the former Yugoslavia, and in 1993 opened this bakery. They figured people associate France with good breads, hence the name.

The name may help, but it's the bread that has made Pain D'Avignon a success. The men now supply grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, and caterers all over New England. Olive Chase, a Hyannis-based restaurateur and caterer, says despite Pain D'Avignon's large distribution, ''they're able to maintain their quality and make beautifully handcrafted artisan breads."

If curry is your thing, you can sample two unusual varieties, on either end of the Cape. In Provincetown, try the Karoo Kafe, a tiny restaurant up a few stairs on Commercial Street. Owner Sanette Groenewald grew up near Cape Town, and moved to Cape Cod in 1995. In 2002 she opened her restaurant.

Her South African specialties include ''bobotie," a curried casserole made with ground beef or tofu. Other noncurried, but popular, choices include anything made with the spicy African-Portuguese ''peri peri" sauce.

Just over the Bourne Bridge, on the Bourne-Pocasset line, is the Cambodian-Vietnamese restaurant Stir Crazy. Owner Bopha Samms and her chef are Cambodian, and the chef's wife is Vietnamese. Samms started life on the Cape as a nanny 21 years ago, and in 1989 opened her restaurant. Try the marinated steak with lemon grass, as well as the curry. Says Samms, ''When people eat our curry, they never eat another curry again."

Kathy Shorr is a freelance writer in Wellfleet.

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