This Week on The Street
Atlanta Restaurant Real Estate
(A more or less regular compilation of news, factoids and observations.)
September 28, 2018
A Peek at the Iberian Peninsula
by Harold V. Shumacher
Portugal: Three F’s and a P
It’s a normal late summer day in Alfama Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood. Tinny children’s voices, the faint rumble of distant traffic, a lusty cheer for a local soccer team, the clickety-clack of rolling suitcases on the uneven streets, men and women talking about the issues of the day, all cut the warm Portuguese air.
Underneath our rented apartment, on a narrow cobble-stoned street, a woman’s plaintiff plea is heard in a traditional Fado song from the tavern below.
Alfama was first inhabited by the Moors, in the eighth century, who built the twisting streets for defensive reasons, making it more difficult for an invading army to advance. Today the narrow alleyways, house numerous shops and restaurants sought out by visiting tourists frequently seen with cell phones and maps in hand to find their way.
Portuguese culture is often summed up by the 3 F’s; Faith, Football and Fado all fueled by Pasteis de Nata, the ubiquitous egg custard tart sold throughout the city.
A heavily Catholic country, the skyline and the 7 hills that surround the city are dotted with churches and convents that still command prime real estate. Football (soccer) also has near religious adherents, eager to get news of how their favorite teams are doing. When one of the national teams is playing it’s not unusual to find bars and cafes packed with fans throughout the city.
Fado, the mournful blues-style music, introduced by women lonely for their sailor husbands, or it’s also said, the soundtrack for the numerous brothels that once dotted the area and serviced returning sailors from their journeys, can be found throughout the city in numerous venues, large and small.
Lisbon is a walking city, relatively compact and crisscrossed by an efficient system of trolleys, buses and an underground metro system. It’s also a city of museums, celebrating everything from the ubiquitous Moorish inspired tiles-found throughout the city – to the pharmacy business. There are numerous art museums with a wide variety of works. The Tagus riverfront area, still showing its shipping past, is interspersed with cruise ship berths, trendy nightclubs and a wide variety of restaurants with riverfront views.
Lisbon has always been a city of intrigue. In World War II, as one of Europe’s few neutral countries, it was a hotbed for spies planting false stories and trying to gather intelligence for their home countries. Along dictatorship, under Antonio Salazar lasting from 1926-1968, was among the lengthiest in European history and kept the country in an economic funk that extended well into the start of the 21st century.
An early member of the European Union (EU), the country is finally seeing the benefits of easy cross-border travel and commerce. The economy has picked up significantly, the unemployment rate dropping from 15% to a bit over 7%, in the past few years, much of it driven by a burgeoning tourism trade.
Brightly painted tuk-tuks fill the crowded streets, as do Segways, open-air VW convertibles, and all forms of transportation aimed at moving tourists about.
While economic conditions are for the most part improving, the urban woes that seem to plague many cities; unaffordable inner-city housing, the growing gap in wages and economic inequality has not spared Lisbon. Ironically the success of the tourist trade is exacerbating the housing problem, as apartment owners are more willing to rent to tourists on a daily or weekly basis than longer term, permanent residents.
As a result, commuters flood the central city, which houses only one-sixth or roughly 500,000 of the three million residents of the metro area, during the work week.
Two-income families, with one or two children at most, and a rising divorce rate are all commonplace in a once heavily Catholic and religious country.
The city is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. It’s the best-known newcomer is Madonna who has set up permanent residence in one of the leafy hillside neighborhoods but sightings of her shopping, attending her children’s soccer games and promoting the city is commonplace.
Claiming hundreds of miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline it’s not surprising that Lisbon, and the remainder of Portugal, have an abundance of seafood. Cod, is ubiquitous and is featured throughout the city in many guises, from broiled or baked fillets to fried cod balls, chilled as a topping for cold salads or the base of numerous hearty soups.
One of our favorite stops, and highly recommended is the Time Out Market. It was opened and is operated by the city magazine company with the same name, and features dozens of the region’s most noted chefs. Originally a fruit and vegetable market, that still operates, the adjacent food hall was built new, in 2014, but incorporates many of its’ neighbor’s design elements and the two spaces flow as one.
Facing the waterfront, and not far from the cruise ship terminal, the market is crowded day and night. The seating is communal and you often have to wait your turn but the system works as each stall beckons you electronically when your food is ready and serves it on real china and cutlery, which is removed and cleaned by the service staff on an on-going basis. The company is opening additional locations in several North American cities including New York, sometime this year, or in early 2019, followed by Boston, Chicago and Montreal.
Porto, Home of Hills and Port
If Lisbon is Portugal’s thriving metropolis, think New York or Chicago, then Porto, the country’s second largest community, is it’s San Francisco. A charming, hilly city, Porto is home to some 1.8 million residents, roughly 300,000 residing in the central city.
In Porto, you’re never far from a view of the water. The Douro River splits the city in half (Porto and Gaia) and views of the Atlantic are common from apartments and homes perched on the surrounding hills.
The Porto side is the more populated and heavily visited by tourists but the Gaia side is worth exploring, time permitting. The city is compact and the main tourist attractions are in the central city and along the riverfront.
There is a slower pace here than in Lisbon. Many stores and restaurants are closed on Sunday and the weekday traffic and street activity don’t start until mid to late morning.
Tariffs and Tripe, Heart Attack on a Plate
Tariffs have been a long- time political weapon. In the late 1700’s Portugal eliminated the tariff on sheep from England and in response, the English significantly reduced the tariff on wines imported from Portugal. The result was two-fold it impacted the French, with whom the English were squabbling, and set in place the port trade, which grew in popularity and centered around Porto. Today there are over a dozen active port houses hugging the Douro River offering tasting tours.
As Portuguese exploration grew in importance and the shipbuilding business developed in the Porto area, local residents took great pride in their navigators and crews, even to the extent of providing them the best meats for their journeys. As a result, local residents began developing a cuisine based on lesser cuts and offal, most notably stewed tripe-Tripas a Moda de Porto- which can still be found in many restaurants. Today, Porto’s residents are often referred to as Triperios in recognition of this historic role.
There are some other popular local dishes to be savored. The Francesinha (French style) sandwich, a staggering mound of local meats, generally including beef, sausage, ham and an egg engrossed in cheese and a special secret sauce (typically made with either beer or spirits as a base) before being baked can be found throughout the city. Imagine a calzone with more fillings and a cheese crust and you have a general idea. If you give it a try, we’d recommend it as a shared item rather than a solo choice. Many Porto residents jokingly refer to this dish as a heart attack on a plate. Real connoisseurs seek out the few remaining restaurants where the sandwiches are baked in a wood-fired oven.
Another culinary staple is the plata del dia, the secret menu, required by statute for all restaurants to provide. It generally includes a soup, often a hearty kale soup including small bits of sausage and potato, an entree and dessert and is priced between 5-$10 Euro’s ( or roughly $6.50-$13.) You may have to ask for it as some restaurants feature it more prominently than others.
Fado music is not as prevalent in Porto as Lisbon, but there are small restaurants and clubs to enjoy this evocative music. One we enjoyed was O Fado, an intimate space seating 60 or so and a rotating cast of some of the city’s most prominent male and female singers. Another noteworthy spot was O Gaveto, located in the far northern suburb of Matosinhos very close to the Leca River, which houses the city’s working docks and cruise ship ports. The restaurant is a 30-year institution featuring impeccably fresh fish and shellfish. The claims with garlic are a great starter.
The area was redeveloped in the early 1990’s by several of Portugal’s star architects, known locally as starchitects, and now features a long, wide promenade, new housing clinging to the hills overlooking the ocean and numerous upscale shops and restaurants. If you visit the area carve out some time for a walk.
Another of Porto’s unique offerings is Livaria Lello, perhaps the world’s only bookstore where patrons line up first to pay a Five Euro admission fee, which is deductible with a purchase and then wait yet again to enter the two-story facility. Rumored to be the source of J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts, the store is a must stop for both literary types and those enamored of all things Harry Potter. The store has an extensive selection of memorabilia plus copies of the works in several languages. Nearby is the Portugal Museum of Photography, housed in a former prison which features rotating exhibits.
A one-hour river cruise is a popular attraction and the tours run frequently. Typically, they include a tour upstream to see the six bridges crossing the river, including the original Maria Pia bridge built in 1877 and designed by Gustave Eiffel’s studio. The iron- arched bridge has some familiarities to the famed Paris landmark.
Another landmark destination, the Sao Bento railway station, was constructed and opened around the same time may be one of the most attractive we’ve seen anywhere. Large tile mosaics cover the walls, leading to the gilded ceiling. The nearby streets include several interesting small boutique stores.
The Azores-A Next It Place
“You’re going where,” several people ask. “The Azores,” I reply, noting the same look of vague familiarity I first expressed when the notion of coming here first arose.
A cluster of nine islands lying 800 miles west of Portugal, and part of that country, the Azores are the westernmost point of Europe. Often called the Hawaii of the Atlantic, the islands, have become increasingly popular with a growing number of direct flights, including several from the United States and Canada making it far more accessible. It’s also becoming an increasingly popular port of call for cruise ships-a sure sign of discovery.
The most visited Island is San Miguel, which includes the capital city of Ponte Delgado and the international airport. While that is often a popular stop, our final destination was Furnas, more or less in the middle of the island. Driving the 50 or so miles, half on an expressway and the other on twisty mountain roads, we were treated to sweeping panoramas of the Atlantic plus numerous hedges of hydrangeas lining the road. First introduced to the Azores hundreds of years ago, the brightly colored plant thrives in the acidic soil along with bright yellow ginger, another species introduced here, which has proven more invasive-think of kudzu with pretty flowers.
Vent for Rent
Furnas is best known for its volcanic thermal springs. The two major facilities are Terra Nostra, located inside the town’s botanical garden, which is definitely worth a visit, prior to your soak in a large pool in front of the original manor house, and the Poca da Dona Beija, a municipal bath, featuring five individual pools all averaging at or close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The municipal baths stay open until 11 p.m. and are a great way to end a busy day.
The quaint colorful village, of 1500 or so permanent residents, is also a hotbed for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, nature walks, whale watching and excursions to nearby Lake Furnas. On the shore of the lake is one of the most unique “kitchens” we’ve visited. One of the specialties of the Furnas region is cozido nas calderias, essentially a slow-cooked combo of beef, pork, chicken, chorizo and blood sausage plus yams, sweet potato, kale, cabbage and carrot steamed in a large pot lowered into a one-meter hole in a volcanic field. Steam cooked, the flavors blend together before being served on family-style platters. If you don’t make prior arrangements to eat on the grounds with one of the local caterers, many of the local restaurants serve the dish, prepared on site, then transported to the restaurant. Local families can also rent a cooking hole, through the municipality, and many do a so a few times a year for large family celebrations.
There are a number of good dining spots in the immediate area, including Miroma, in the heart of the village-known best for its stewed octopus- and Restaurante Ponta de Gaajau, in the nearby town of Riberia Quinte. A seasonal restaurant, open from April to October, the cozy dining room features impeccably fresh fish that literally comes from the docks 100 yards from the restaurant. The grilled fish platter is a good sharing dish as is the steamed shrimp, sold by the gram. If available, we’d also recommend the fried grey triggerfish filets.
Two restaurants that missed the mark, for us, were 3 Bica’s, featuring a pizza with an overly doughy crust and Tony’s that seems to have a corner on the local market with three locations but only so-so food.
San Sebastián: Stars, Surf and Strong Nationalism
I was last in San Sebastián almost 50 years ago, as a freshly minted college graduate on a last fling, before moving to Atlanta. Then, as now, the city in Northern Spain, within a scant few miles of the French border, was a popular tourist attraction and known for its beach and culinary scene. Little has changed, other than the local population growing to just shy of 200,000 in the last census.
The Basque region, in which San Sebastian sits, includes three provinces in Spain and four in France. Interestingly, the Spanish side is the home to numerous industries and has a manufacturing based economy while the French side remains agrarian. The Spanish residents live relatively well, enjoying average wages well above the Spanish national level. There is also a large percentage of home ownership and reasonably priced rental options remain.
Bilbao is the largest city in the region and is home to major banks, manufacturers and distribution businesses that serve the region. It’s also home to both the major airport and the Spanish branch of the Guggenheim Museum. Built in 1997, the Frank Geary designed edifice is located on the Bilbao river, anchoring a culture district created as an economic development tool.
The near $90 million dollar project, mainly funded by the local jurisdiction, has proven a winner, recouping most of its costs in its initial years of operation and has now become the region’s single largest tourist attraction. Every day, flocks of tourists, some from the nearby cruise ships, others visiting the surrounding cities, plus local residents flood the brightly lit edifice.
The Basque people trace their history back hundreds of years prior to
Spanish rule and still retain a fierce loyalty to their roots. The separatist rebellion ceased in 2011 and now the region, begrudgingly, accepts it’s role as a Spanish province. But old biases run deep. During this year’s World Cup, earlier in the summer, there were celebrations in the street when the Spanish national team was defeated by Russia. The Basque language, a strange virtually indecipherable jumble of vowels and consonants and banned during Franco’s regime, is once again being taught in the schools and the Basque flag is often seen towering over the Spanish one in public places.
While the Basque residents have the expected European fascination with soccer the teams representing the area are constituted almost exclusively of native sons, and daughters, willing to show their pride on the playing fields at the expense of winning more frequently.
Other popular sports include cycling and rowing, as each fishing village has a team, often including paid professionals who compete in local regattas. Many of the events are televised and are extremely popular attractions.
A haven for foodies, San Sebastián can claim both the largest number of Michelin starred restaurant (7 currently) and bars per capita in the world. The presence of this pool of talent has had a trickle-down effect, forcing even the most humble eatery to raise their game, adding a culinary flourish or a subtle touch to what often passes for everyday cooking. Even the long-cherished tradition of Pintxo, the Basque equivalent of Tapas, has been impacted with several restaurants offering intriguingly concocted plates that would pass muster in a finer, sit down restaurant environment. One such example is Zeruko where dishes such as thin strips of razor clams, in a chicken broth or a delicate slice of grilled lamb, paired with fresh figs highlight the menu.
The best meal we had in San Sebastian was at Mirador de Ulia, a Michelin quality restaurant perched high above the city with a spectacular view of the harbor and beaches below. The ten- course meal, plus additional tastes from the chef, included everything from lobster salad and clams with a white garlic emulsion to tuna pickled in corn and leek and duck prepared sous vide style with an accompaniment of hazelnut and sunflower seeds.
A nightly ritual in San Sebastián is the paseo, or the evening stroll. In neighborhoods and along the wide promenades that border the ocean, elderly residents, some on walkers or being pushed along in wheelchairs by their family members, are joined by young families, and wise-cracking teenagers (some things are universal) positioned on the sea walls for a better look at the passers-by.
Often times these walks end in a local pub for Pintxos. Numbering in the hundreds, it’s not uncommon for guests to make four to six stops a night, sampling a specialty in each often accompanied by a pecueno, a small beer or glass of wine. Generally, the spaces are small, with limited seating and it’s not unusual to see patrons standing inside or spilled outside on the sidewalk, conversing with friends passing by. Traditionally the restaurant’s offerings are laid out on the bar and you pick what you want, the cost tallied before they’re presented to you or brought to the table.
Generally, the items cost one to three Euros each so the food ends up being reasonably priced, especially when you factor in the experience.
Many of these restaurants also have small dining rooms with larger menus but the tables frequently include a surcharge when used with ordering from the bar.
A more challenging walk is the climb to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Castle Rock) a hermitage built hundreds of years on a promenade overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and accessible only by traversing a narrow bridge connecting the island to the shore. It’s about an hour from San Sebastian and would require either hiring a guide or renting a car to visit.
In recent years the attraction has become a must stop for Game of Throne fans, which featured the church in Season 7. Today, hundreds of people, many wearing t-shirts from the series, make the near vertical ascent to the top. Accompanying the strenuous walk is the steady clang of the church bell from high atop the hill. Tradition says that once you’ve reached the top you ring the bell 3 times and make a wish. Hoping to get down in one piece may be the most frequent one uttered.
After you’ve returned, and if you’ve worked up an appetite, there’s a surprisingly good restaurant at the base, featuring freshly made rotisserie chicken, complemented with a large portion of crispy fries.
San Sebastián is an architectural delight incorporating elements of Gothic and French style, baroque buildings. Following an earthquake in the early 1800’s, which virtually devastated the city, and the stamp of approval provided by Spanish royalty in the late 19th century there was a flood of development of residential and commercial buildings. Today the streets often have the feel of Paris, or possibly parts of Vienna. There are a handful of new modern buildings and there is a mini-residential boom underway.
Following a leisurely five and a half hour train ride from San Sebastián we got caught up in the conclusion of La Vuelta a Espana the three-week bicycle tour across Spain. The last day includes numerous loops of the central business district, effectively cutting us off from the boulevard we needed to cross to get to our accommodations.
Once settled, we began to explore this most interesting city. Including many of the design elements of other great European cities, the main streets feature wide sidewalks with intersecting diagonal thoroughfares and public squares and parks to soften the surroundings. Narrow side streets house unique boutiques, neighborhood restaurants and service providers for everything from household goods to textile stores.
Madrid, at least in the central part feels like a business city. Well dressed men, typically sporting blue suits with appropriate neckwear, and business chic women fill the crowded streets but are far outnumbered by t-shirt wearing locals and visitors sporting everything from sports team (the New York Yankees and local soccer clubs seem popular) as are travel destinations, favorite musicians and political statements. It may be a sign of the times but I saw a surprising number of t-shirts emphasizing girl and female power.
Spain was slow to emerge from the World-Wide recession but it seems apparent that they’re playing catch-up in a big way. There are major infrastructure projects underway throughout the city and large office towers, many with Fortune 500 company ’s names prominently displayed, dot the city’s ring highway. There is also a hotel and apartment boom. Four Seasons will open their first Madrid Hotel in 2019 in the popular Sol area.
Madrilenos, the name for the local residents of the country’s capital, like to eat and they do it frequently. A typical day begins with coffee, and possibly a sweet roll or bread at home, followed by a second breakfast (Desayuno) at a café which may include more coffee and churros-sticks of fried batter for dunking- or a slice of tortilla, here the name for a potato omelette. Mid-day comes lunch, which can often be a one to two hour event and requires reservations in the better restaurants. The long lunch break is often accompanied by a siesta or time off and many small shops still follow this tradition closing from roughly two to four p.m., but often staying open until 7 p.m. or later.
In the late afternoon comes merienda (tea) often including small sandwiches (bocadillo) or pastries. Dinner is generally eaten late and restaurants feel empty until 9 p.m. when the activity kicks up. In smaller tapas oriented restaurants or the ubiquitous tabernas (neighborhood taverns) things tend to start a little bit earlier.
For foodies a recommended stop is the St. Miguel Market- a treat for the eye and pocketbook. Numerous food stalls look like their display cases were arranged by food stylists. Generally crowded with a minimum of seating, patrons often find themselves standing or sitting on the sidewalk outside the building, easy targets for the beggars and street hustlers in the area.
The tapas-sized dishes are typically priced between one and three Euro’s, while larger plates or those including seafood are in the four to six range. There’s also a bar, coffee shop and dessert stops to round out your meal.
Madrid abounds in cultural amenities. The city’s best- known museum is the Prado that includes a stunning collection of 16th and 17th-century religious inspired art, much of it coming from Italy and the Netherlands, which was controlled by Spain at the time. El Greco and Goya are prominently featured, along with other Spanish artists. One of the best known of the museums’ works is Hieronymus Bosch ’s eponymous three colored panel titled Garden of Earthly Delights. To see it in person can be a bit disconcerting with Daliesque elements of good and evil, twisted animals and troublesome pairings of people and animals engaged in intimacy. For the more conventional art fan, there’s also a smattering of Rubins, Rafael and Botticelli works.
Other museums of note include the Thyssen Bornemisza, often referred to as the home of major artists’ minor works and minor artists major works. Another noteworthy stop is the Museo Reina Softa, home to Picasso’s famed painting of the attack on Guernica during the Spanish Civil war in the late 1930’s. We also enjoyed the city’s botanical garden and a leisurely stroll through the Parque del Retiro, a large public park that includes a small lake where rental boats are available.
Madrid also boasts the largest castle in Europe, the Royal Palace, with 2800 rooms. There are public tours throughout the day but on clear days many people gather in the adjoining plaza to witness the spectacular sunsets.
Recent Transactions for The Shumacher Group, Inc. include the following
Purchase of Land and Building:
Roto Rooter –Purchase of 3953, 3955, 3957 Pleasantdale Rd. Atlanta Ga,
620 Glen Iris Lofts-Former Cru Restaurant
Whalburger 218 Peachtree Street
Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar Sandy Plains/Shallowford-East Cobb
Hotworx: Old Alabama Square-Alpharetta; John’s Creek; Sandy Springs, Perimeter Town Center and Decatur,
Sales of the Following Businesses:
Jamba Juice-East Cobb
Flip Burger-Howell Mill
Hook, Line & Schooner-Smyrna
Our Thanks to all of you. For a more complete listing of recent transactions please visit our website Shumacher.com