I’m not sure when the revelation hit me: It may have been when I was stuffing my face with the adorable pastéis de nata, a crackly-crisp puff pastry shell lavished with cinnamon-spiked egg custard. Or perhaps it was when I was gorging myself like a bear in autumn on the sugar-drenched bolos de Berlim (or Berlin balls). But at some point I looked across the community table at my friend Felicia, who seemed to be in a state of sugar shock. “This is genius,” I said, perhaps a bit too loudly. “Genius!” To which she muttered, her mouth full, “Why has no one thought of this before?”
The two of us had met early on a Saturday morning in late October to try out the first day of a Portuguese pop-up bakery at Oporto Fooding House and Wine in Houston. The idea is simple: For three hours each Saturday and Sunday morning, the attractive restaurant in Midtown opens up early for pastries (their regular brunch service begins at eleven). If you drag yourself out of bed, you can enter through Oporto’s side door, get some good coffee—from Greenway Coffee, which supplies Blacksmith—and prowl around the counter ogling the array of baked goods still warm and fragrant from the oven.
Oporto is a Portuguese- and Indian-inspired restaurant (co-owner Rick Divirgilio is part Portuguese and his wife, Shiva, is Indian). But the pastries are purely Portuguese (well, and French, but more on that in a minute). Because we wanted at least a tiny bit of protein, we started with the almost feathery bacalao croquettes—savory gourmet fish cakes made with dried salt cod. Get to these first, because thought they’re mild you likely don’t want fish after you’ve eaten a bunch of sweets.
We chased those with a bite or two of beef empanadas, and then went for the hard stuff, starting with Portugal’s malasadas—roughly, doughnut balls—with a lovely, dusky roasted-pumpkin puree inside. We hit the babas—which were light and brioche-y, with plum-brandy-soaked raisins hidden inside like the baby Jesus in a king’s cake. After several other indulgent nibbles, we were slowing down, but we had to try the streusel-dusted pistachio brioche. And somehow we found room for slices of chocolate salami from a dense log of dark-chocolate ganache studded with nibbles of brioche crumbs and nuts.
We departed with bags of absolutely killer croissants, the best I’ve had in Texas, which shatter into a million little flakes of buttery crust the minute you bite into them. But that’s to be expected when the head baker and pastry chef is Tony Stein, recently hired away from Common Bond bakery. As my friend and I agreed as we got into our respective cars and headed home: their loss, Oporto’s gain.