Olney: Little Portugal

Friends gather at Cafe Liz' to watch soccer and eat Portuguese cuisine.

Some residents call the Olney section of Philadelphia “one big melting pot.”

The Portuguese may make up a smaller part of the culture in Olney—only 2 percent of the European population in Philadelphia—but this little population left a huge impact.

Center City Philadelphia isn’t the only place you can look to find a nice, cultured dinner. Directly off of Fifth and Tabor streets at Lawrence Street in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia hides Café Liz.

“I came here from Portugal 20 years ago, so the first 10 years I worked in construction. Then I bought this place. It was just the bar first. Then I bought the building attached to it and turned it into a café. Then I started serving Portuguese food.”

Filinto Marques is the owner of Café Liz. He’s reclining in his chair in quite an elegantly decorated café. The room is made up of seven or eight white-clothed tables with decoratively folded napkins on every one of them.

“There’s a lot of Portuguese people here [in Olney], but most of them are in the Northeast [area of Philadelphia].

Putting his fists in front of him and staring down at them, he continues, “We are very hard working people, and we’re very nice people.”

He opens the door next to the kitchen and begins walking down the stairs directing us toward the bar. Like one big family, the bar is home to about 30 patrons sitting and waiting for the Portugal-Turkey soccer game to begin. Nearly all of them are wearing red, green and yellow jerseys. It looks like an entire soccer team is in the bar celebrating a victory.

The better part of the patrons introduce themselves throughout the afternoon.

“I come here to watch every game, and today, good luck for us, and bad luck for the other team.” jokes Victor Martins, a friend of Marques. He’s wearing a Portuguese flag do-rag to accentuate the jersey, and insists we try a Portuguese beer.

Friends gather at Cafe Liz' to watch soccer and eat Portuguese cuisine.
Friends gather at Cafe Liz to watch soccer and eat Portuguese cuisine.

“If you’re hanging out in a Portuguese bar, you have to try a Portuguese beer. All three of them.” Martins treated two rounds of our choice—Imperial and Super Bock. The third, was on the house, too, but we kindly declined.

Then the food comes: bread, a tray of beef, chicken legs, pig snout, cabbage and rice, and a side of shrimp in a sauce that’s to die for. Aside from the joy of satisfaction the food provides, the bill is under $30.

Marques picks up the entire bill and the rest of our drinks.

“I just want you to know the Portuguese people are good people, nice people. Please come into my place any time.”

The crowd asks us to stay for the remainder of the game, seeing we are about on our way out.

Martins and Marques have effortlessly left such an impact, showing their dedication to the game and their culture, and welcoming complete strangers off the street to enjoy the experience with them anytime.

Café Liz in Olney offers great, inexpensive food and the hospitality you’d expect at a Caribbean resort.

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