First Look: Cafuné, a Brazilian café in Cabbagetown
A taste of Brazil in Cabbagetown (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)
For the 26 years that Cafuné owner Vicente Gannam has lived in Canada, he’s wanted to bring the real foods of his Brazilian culture to Toronto. “I love food,” he says. “Cafuné is about the love of food and the desire to show it to people.”
After years of dreaming, Gannam decided to go for it. The former public service worker enlisted the aid of long-time friend Mary Ann Ferrando as a restaurant consultant, and the two of them launched Cafuné on Carlton Street in Cabbagetown late last year, taking over an old trophy store.
“I want people to see the best of Brazil,” Gannam says.
The best of Brazil includes natural fibre art, showcased here; imported items such as napkin holders and vases made from corn husks, coffee husks or papier-mâché. Gannam also displays Brazilian artwork and has a shelf of Brazilian literature, translated into English, for folks to read while they dine.
Cafuné is the only venue in the country to import coffee from Carmo de Minas, a region close to where Gannam grew up in Brazil. It’s used here for all of the brewed coffee and for the espresso-based drinks.
All of the food at Cafuné is steeped in a culture that Gannam is eager to share. The menu, executed by chef Hector Felice, highlights Brazilian-inspired appetizers, small dishes, a daily special and a three-course prix-fixe dinner that changes weekly.
When we were there, a special called the escondidinho (the little hidden thing, $8 with soup and salad) saw ground beef covered with mashed manioc and parmesan cheese; it was a Brazilian take on shepherd’s pie.
“Manioc is puréed cassava plant,” Ferrando explains. “It’s a starch that comes out creamy, and is lighter than potato in taste.”
A traditional Brazilian sandwich known as the Bauru ($6, pictured below) features roast beef, mozzarella and tomato.
Cafuné uses a number of Brazilian ingredients that may not be familiar to Torontonians — including manioc, pão de queijo and tapioca — which are described in detail on the menu for those who are unaware but curious.
The pão de queijo ($0.75) is cheese bread made from manioc flour. Popular in Brazil, it’s served in small pieces, and is usually consumed with coffee. It dates back to the 1600s, when workers would roll up and bake the white powder left over in the large wooden bowls used in manioc production. When cattle-farming became popular in Brazil centuries later, cheese was added.
Cafuné offers a variety of spreads ($0.75) to accompany the pão de queijo, including sundried tomato, black olive tapenade, sundried tomato aioli and an eggplant spread.
“Pão de queijo has a beautiful history,” Gannam says.
And don’t think that tapioca is just pudding. Traditional to Brazilian natives, tapioca meal is turned into flour, grilled and served like a crêpe or tortilla. It comes either plain, with olive oil or butter ($3), or with a sweet (condensed milk) or savoury (anchovies or mozzarella) filling for $4.
Cafuné’s bar is equipped with cachaça, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented sugar cane juice. It’s like rum (which is often made from molasses) but a bit sweeter. Brazilians usually mix it with fruit juices or cashew juice, which the restaurant has on hand.
Finding suppliers was “initially a challenge,” Ferrando says, but they quickly figured out where to look. She says that Augusta Fruit Market in Kensington Market “carries pretty much anything,” and that Nosso Talho and Sabrina Wholesale Foods are also major suppliers.
Meanwhile, Gannam is getting used to the much different pace of the restaurant business.
“It’s crazy,” he says. “It’s fun, it’s new. Everything is all over the place. But it energizes me.”
A Cafuné server (L) and owner Vicente Gannam
Cafuné,194A Carlton St., 647-748-7884