Every Sunday after church in Vianópolis, Minas Gerais, Dona Francisca prepared her daughter Natalia Pereira and her four other children the Empadão de Frango, a staple dish in Brazilian cuisine and in her own kitchen. Decades later, the Brazilian equivalent of Chicken Pot Pie landed in the US and became Natalia’s signature dish at Wood Spoon, an extremely charming café located in downtown Los Angeles since 2006. “Everything served here is my mom’s recipe, my brothers’ favorite dish or my uncle’s most loved food”, says Natalia.
The familial nature of the restaurant is felt throughout the dining room, with Natalia welcoming her customers as personal guests. And like a true host, she stops by every table, discussing the preparation of each dish and offering some insight into the history of the restaurant. The space was also designed to recreate many of her childhood memories with a vintage hip décor composed of antique furniture and mix-and-match tableware, a deliberate and successful attempt at mimicking her modest home.
The food served is true to the chef’s homeland of Minas Gerais, considered one of the most “Brazilian” of Brazilian cuisine, and highly praised and replicated throughout the country. It is also home to the beloved Pão de Queijo, but that is just one of the many treats from that part of the country . The influences that went into the creation of Mineiro cooking are those which characterize the rest of the country – European, particularly Portuguese; African, and native indigenous. In the lush highlands of mountainous Minas Gerais, these influences were blended into something uniquely new.
In Minas Gerais, food and cooking are what binds people together. From the modern capital Belo Horizonte, through historically preserved baroque cities such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes, people revere what they eat and honor the foods and ingredients that have been a part of their table for years, even centuries.
Natalia is one of those proud inheritors – she moved to Los Angeles by herself in 1998. Homesick, she would recreate her mom’s dishes to herself as a way of feeling closer to home. She then started to cook for friends, then friends of friends, until it became a full-time job. “I don’t consider myself a chef. This restaurant is an extension of my home, a place where I host friends and neighbors. I don’t look at it as a business, it’s more like a sustainable place where I can share my family recipes”, she says.
That’s what makes Wood Spoon far different from all the meat-intensive Brazilian steakhouses around the US – the menu here is the everyday food of Brazil, starting with a sample of the country’s favorite street foods such as coxinha, salt-cod croquettes, and Portuguese pastel stuffed with shrimp and coconut sauce. There are also classics of the Mineiro cuisine like Frango com Quiabo – chicken stew with okra served with polenta – and Costelinha com Canjiquinha- pork short ribs with corn grits. Portions of grilled chicken, beef, fish or sausage are served with the infallible Brazilian combo of black beans, rice, boiled greens, vinaigrette sauce and farinha de mandioca, or gritty manioc powder. Wood Spoon also serves a “special burger”, which was inspired by Dona Francisca when her teenage daughter asked for a taste of America in Minas Gerais. “She made it with what we had left at home, that’s why it’s pork with cabbage.” But the most popular dish at Wood Spoon is still the Empadão de Frango, which Natalia serves from Tuesday to Saturday (lunch and dinner) just as if it was Sunday in her mom’s kitchen.
Check out LA Downtowner’s video about Wood Spoon:
107 W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015