There's no pasta alfredo on the menu, no chicken Caesar salad, no hamburger and no cheese dip. Those delectables you can get on every street corner in Little Rock.
But only at Bossa Nova will you find pao de quiejo, cheese bread made with yucca root flour; bolinho de bacalhau, cod fish cakes with pepper sauce, and feijoada, what owner Rosalia (Ro-SA-lia) Monroe says is Brazilian soul food, a hearty dish of sausage, black beans, baby back ribs with a side of chopped collard greens and a delicious mound of rice.
Bossa Nova, celebrating its 10th year in Hillcrest, is one of those restaurants where you can count on its unique dishes to be well-prepared. You can't count on a table, the place is so small, and if you do get a table and it happens to be the one in the corner by the window in the second dining room, a beep that signals someone has come in the front door may drive you mad. So use earplugs, already. If you want kibe de abobora assada, an unbelievably good (and filling) combination of butternut squash, raisins, spices, ricotta cheese and baked onions, and this writer always does, you'll use your earplugs and use them gladly. (A glass of wine, or perhaps a caipirinha — lime, sugar and Brazilian rum — helps in that corner, as well.)
Rosalia and husband, Dan Monroe, opened the cafe March 19, 2001, with little more than a hot plate and a conventional oven in the kitchen. Thus was Little Rock introduced to a new way to serve black beans, rice and chopped collard greens and, for dessert, tres leites cake, a sweet milky piece of heaven.
Monroe was born in Belo Horizonte (population 6 million); she moved here, to what must seem like a very small town, in 1991. She was first in the dry cleaning business; fortunately for the dining public here, she loves to cook and decided to go into the restaurant business and sell the cleaners to her sons.
Not being satisfied with success at lunch and dinner, the Monroes just recently opened the bakery Rosalia's in space formerly occupied by a video store next door to Bossa Nova. Ezequiel Nascimento, a baker who worked the lunch and dinner kitchen at Cafe Bossa Nova for some time, is finally getting to live his dream — or, in Portuguese, sonho, which is what you call the custard- and-caramel-filled sugared donuts he turns out. Rosalia's offers all manner of breads ands sweets, including croissants (currently the favorite item, Rosalia says) and tarts and big sweet rolls and baguettes and, of course, the cheese bread so popular in the restaurant. Potent Dean's Beans coffee, fair-trade of course, is served either medium-strong or strong-strong. (You'll find the cream at a self-serving stand in the corner.)
Rosalia Monroe has been working 12- and 14-hour days seven days a week, thanks to the opening of the bakery. The day this reporter talked to her, she said one of her sons had just told her he wanted to take over the restaurant. "It's going to take hard work," she said, shaking her head. But, she added, "It's very rewarding."