Quick: Name a neighborhood restaurant in Somerville that lies hidden away in the back of a convenience store. Most of you would probably say Vinny's at Night on Broadway in East Somerville, wouldn't you? Well, you would certainly be correct, but while Vinny's is a terrific little Italian restaurant located in a very unusual space, it is not the only dining spot in the city that is set up like this. Indeed, J & J Restaurant, a Portuguese restaurant located at a busy intersection on the edge of Union Square, is also housed in the back of a convenience store, and is even further under the radar than Vinny's at Night. But much like Vinny's, J & J is very, very good at what it does, and is a place that locals really seem to love.
From the outside, J & J Restaurant looks like just another place to grab a bag of chips and a soda, or perhaps a lottery ticket or two. And this would initially be an accurate description of the spot, as the front of the shop is basically a combination superette/sub shop. What they sell in the front, however, is a bit different from what you might expect, as it certainly reflects its heritage with Portuguese bread from a Fall River bakery, Portuguese olive oil, Portuguese biscuits (called "biscoito"), and a number of other Portuguese products. To the left is a counter where you can order subs and sandwiches, including a decent steak and cheese (made even better by the fresh, crispy rolls they use here) as well as a linguica sub, a genoa and provolone sub, a pork sandwich, and perhaps 20 other sandwich and sub options. (You can also order cod cakes and shrimp cakes for little more than pocket change.) A couple of small tables with stools are located by the front windows in case folks want to eat their orders here instead of taking them home. And to the right of the place is a nondescript, narrow entrance that looks like it goes nowhere, but actually leads to a full-service dining room behind the store, complete with a handful of tables, a high partition adding privacy, carpeting keeping the room relatively quiet, and paintings of Portugal hanging from the walls.
While subs are not an option for those dining within the restaurant part of J & J, the menu has plenty of options, including some authentic Portuguese fare. Starters are limited to soups and salads (no appetizers), though meals begin with little bread rolls that come with a spread made with chick peas, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and oil. Among the soups, the kale soup is an excellent option, as it has a lot of flavor coming from the abundant chourico (a spicy, smokey sausage with a hint of paprika) mixed in. For entrees, fish lovers can choose from such dishes as grilled squid with boiled potatoes, fried cod fish with onions and peppers, and rice with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, and scallops. For those not into seafood, J & J has a number of pork, steak, chicken, and lamb dishes, including a delicious plate of grilled pork in a rich garlic sauce; a tender, slight fatty steak that comes with homemade Portuguese fries (which are shaped almost like thick potato chips) and can be ordered either grilled or fried (and can also be ordered with a fried egg on top); a whole BBQ chicken that comes with both rice and French fries; and lamb kabobs that come with veggies and baked baby potatoes. Tripe is also an option on the menu at J & J restaurant, as is pork with red beans. Desserts include flan, chocolate mousse custard, and molotof pudding (a type of pudding made with egg whites, sugar, and a sweet sauce). Beer and wine is offered at J & J, with a few ports available.
J & J Restaurant is a very unusual spot; think of it as an old-school variety store/restaurant where locals tend to gather, and a place where the Portuguese language can often be heard in addition to (or instead of) English. If you like Vinny's at Night, you may end up loving J & J Restaurant, a spot that isn't all that far away in distance, and is, in a way, a Portuguese counterpart to Vinny's.
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