PIRI-PIRI CHURRASQUEIRA (1444 Dupont, at Lansdowne, 416-536-5100) Complete dinners for $20 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a $4.50 Sagres beer. Open daily noon to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier free. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Dupont cuts across the city like a nasty scar. Cycling westward on a hot summer evening, we find exhaust fumes so thick they sting our eyes, and minivans honking, perhaps for Jesus. It's an ugly ride past abandoned factories and dodgy-looking businesses. I can't imagine a restaurant surviving in such a desolate landscape. Owner Agnelo DeCosta moved from his College Street location just over two years ago, and it appears to be working. Even on a Tuesday night, Piri-Piri is packed, inside and out. An awning covers a large patio, much like a tent, and clear plastic is sensibly rolled down at the dusty Dupont end. Light cotton curtains blow in the breeze, and the tables are laid with white cloths and cheerful yellow and blue napkins.
A heater runs along the entire length of the building, boding well for smoking diners come winter. Apart from this, it has the exact look and feel of the churrasqueiras ubiquitous to Portugal and, sipping a cold Sagres, I can't help but think wistfully of time spent with family in that country.
Piri-piri means hot, but this type of chicken must also be salty and crisp-skinned. Our half-chicken ($9.95) has been liberally rubbed with sea salt and grilled superbly. A bowl of piri-piri sauce is served on the side, and the chili paste and oil concoction makes an excellent dip for a pile of perfect salty fries. This meal makes a mockery of what's presented in North American chicken joints.
Two large pieces of grilled squid ($12) are equally well cooked - tender, flame-kissed and served in white wine, garlic and butter. A pair of boiled potatoes, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower help use up the excess sauce, and what's left is soaked up with slices of fresh quality baguette.
The service is charming and professional at all times despite the obvious stress in the waiter's run/walk between the patio and a large party indoors. DeCosta comes out in kitchen whites to help pour wine and take orders. It's satisfying to know that despite the dreary location, his charming restaurant is deservedly thriving.