Every now and again, you find a place so charming and “out-of-this-world” that you’re just grateful you didn’t need a passport to get there. Such a place is Samba Cafe, located on Main Street in Jeffersonville, New York (at the foot of the Catskills.) Far from the maddening crowd, this tiny gem lives on local business and the kindness of strangers who find it as they drop off their kids to camp, or en route to Bethel Woods (the “real” site of the Woodstock Festival), or through town gossip — local artists and actors from nearby playhouses, print-makers, organic farmers, antique dealers, you name it. And the lovely news is that Samba Cafe is also an Inn — a kind of bed-and-dinner affair that seduces you in simple ways.
Samba Cafe began as a hip juice bar and savvy bookshop in 2006 as the love child of Tim Corcoran and his wife Andrea Alves Corcoran. Neither imagined they would one day leave behind the world of investment banking JP Morgan/Chase (Andrea) or the magical world of tv and theatre — Tim was the artistic Director of the 29th Street Repertory Theatre for 20 years, had a recurring role on Guiding Light for six years, and tended bar at the Rainbow Room during the time that we ran it (1987 through 2000.) But passion controlled their pocketbook and life in the country slowly upstaged city commitments. Soon, Andrea — a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, began cooking lunches and Sunday brunch, and dinner service began in February this year. I must say because of Tim’s vast experience at the Rainbow Room that the service — however casual — is superb indeed. It’s fun to have a $28 bottle of Castello de la Dehasa (a sauvignon blanc blend from the Rueda) opened with the flourish of an 1982 Petrus!
But it is the food and the decor that beckon. Andrea is from Belo Horizonte, the third largest city in Brazil, and her goal was to “create flavors” based on the cuisine of her homeland. It is from Andrea that we learned about acai and tropical fruits and Moqueca, a Brazilian fish soup made with coconut milk and shrimp. It is Andrea’s feijoada that we crave, served in its metal braising pot with sides of garlicky bright green collards, and a relish of fresh orange, red onion, and cilantro. It is Andrea’s pernil — a delicious pork shoulder, slowly roasted for five hours at a very low temperature and flavored with garlic, cumin, olive oil, pepper and cumin — that has us licking our lips. “How does it stay so moist?” I ask. Andrea brines it overnight. Andrea is also known for pao de queijo — cheese bread from her native Brazil and for her wonderful homemade empanadas. Dinner, comprised of a large salad (with lettuces and nasturtiums and herbs grown in their zip code), homemade bread and butter, and a main course can be had for $16.00. A la carte appetizers include plump, juicy crab cakes, yucca with salsa, and jalapeno corn bread. And I’ve discovered that my new favorite wine — a pinot noir-like Artner Zweigelt from Austria — is a great partner for feijoada. All this in a dining room filled with great art hung on bright red walls, exposed lacquered refrigerators, and an assortment of vintage dining room tables, makes this experience worth a comforting detour.
Soon, the Corcorans will be opening a small market featuring Portuguese comestibles — including their fabulous coffee, molho de pimenta (hot sauce), condiments, addictive crackers, and Brazilian olive oil…and a small theatre right next door. Maybe dancing lessons will be next. www.sambacafeandinn.com