Couple's business has bread at heart On the move: From world travel to international cuisine, the lives of two Severna Park restaurateurs and bakers have never been boring.

September 06, 1998|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The loaves of crusty European-style bread were flying off the table as fast as Joe Port could bag them at the Riva Road Farmer's Market when a familiar voice called, "Hi, Joe."

Looking up, Port saw his old Naval Academy classmate, newly retired Adm. Charles R. Larson. "I called back, 'Hi Chuck, I see the governor appointed you to head his university task force.' He said, 'I had to have something to do.' "

While Larson had just left the academy superintendency in June to take his first nonmilitary step in 40 years, Port, 61, is well into his third career -- bread baker and restaurateur with his &r Brazilian-born, American-educated wife, Vera, 62.

The Ports married in the academy chapel the day he graduated '' in 1958 and spent the next 25 years traveling around the United States and abroad during Joe's postings as a Navy pilot. He did two tours in Vietnam, taught economics at the academy, and worked at the Pentagon and as a military attache in Europe and Latin America, which included duty as a Portuguese interpreter for the secretary of the Navy and various top commanders.

In 1983, Joe retired from the Navy and spent the next 13 years globe-trotting for Grumman Aircraft Co., ending up as assistant to the company president for international sales after Northrop Aviation bought Grumman in 1994.

In 1996, the tall, gray-haired aviator retired again, this time to join Vera full time in her hobby-turned-business. The tempting aroma of fresh-baked breads and pastries permeates their small bakery-cafe on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, off Ritchie Highway in Severna Park.

"Vera's passion is bread," said her husband, "and I enjoy selling it at the farmer's market on Saturdays. It goes quickly, too. Everything we can make on Friday [in all-nighters at the oven] I can sell on Saturday."

Starting in 1992, Joe said, they baked specialty bread at home to sell at the farmer's market. In their first expansion, they rented oven time at a bakery in Deale to establish a restaurant trade before moving into their present store in 1994 and hiring two bakers to help turn out the daily orders for area restaurants.

"We have developed recipes, changed flour formulas for different breads and learned how to play with the amounts of flour to produce different textures of bread," Joe said.

But he remains the apprentice to his wife, who welcomes everyone like a long-lost friend.

As a child growing up in an affluent family in Salvador, Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, Vera said, "I used to go into the kitchen to help the cook prepare dinner. My father [a Czech-born civil engineer] was very fussy about food. We ate a lot of Czech food and had a Czech way of life. My father was crazy about cooking and he taught our cooks how to do it. I watched him and learned."

As the Ports traveled during the Navy years, she collected recipes and cooking tips from top chefs everywhere.

"I learned to make sauces from Chef Alberto at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome," she said. "We had a very social diplomatic life in Rome, so we gave lots of parties and I always cooked at home."

pTC After they finally settled in Anne Arundel County, with their four children grown and gone, she baked for fun, giving away loaves and cakes to neighbors, including heavy Russian black bread filled with raisins and nuts; crusty French and Italian bread and sweet Portuguese pao doce.

Even after they began selling at the farmer's market, Vera said, she dreamed of "having my own little place."

"It's a hard dream; I never realized how hard it would be," she said. "Bread is the heart of my business, but the bakery doesn't support itself, so we started to do breakfast and lunches. Then we started doing dinners from Thursday to Saturday; Friday nights we're packed."

Joe said his new career is fun but time-consuming. "This is so demanding in time, much harder than the Navy. I'm definitely not bored, but I am tired."

Vera's cosmopolitan culinary experience ensures an international menu, but her specialties are from her native land: muqueca, a savory seafood stew, and feijoada completa -- the Brazilian national dinner, which includes black beans cooked with dried meats and sausages and accompanied by garlic-seasoned rice; farofa, which is mandioca flour toasted with egg, olive slices, bacon and spices; collard greens or kale; fried bananas and sliced oranges.

Brazilians living in the Baltimore-Washington area are frequent weekend customers and occasionally call to ask for a particular dish.

"I'll make it for them, even if it's not on the regular menu. This is my home and I'm the cook," Vera said.

Vera's is holding an all-you-can-eat Brazilian Food Festival Sept. 25 and 26 to benefit the Santo Antonio Orphanage and Educational Center in Bahia. There will be two sittings, at 5: 30 p.m. and 8: 30 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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