Tables can comfortably accommodate eight diners, but Varuni acknowledged that communal eating isn’t for everyone. There are a few smaller tables for two and a long dinner counter with seats facing the kitchen.
Patrons at the restaurant on a recent evening appeared to take the idea of shared tables in stride.
“Sometimes you talk to people you don’t know,” said diner Jason Ewing.
“I think it’s new to Atlanta. It’s very European. I think it’s great,” added his friend, B.J. Guthrie.
Like Varuni, the Sapetas welcome diners as friends at Emidio’s, where they serve a special Portuguese lunch with communal seating on the first Sunday of each month. (At other times, their restaurant features regular seating.)
The Sapetas are from Madeira, Portugal. “I think culture and food go hand in hand,” Maria Sapeta said. “We want people to mingle with us. We like to share. That gives us a lot of satisfaction.”
Her husband’s parents were chefs. He serves meals family-style at the communal lunch as his mother did at home in Madeira. “The house was always full of people and my mom would put all of the food on top of the table,” he said.
Maria Sapeta said it’s a great way to introduce people who are not Portuguese to the culture.
Emidio’s regular menu features Portuguese, Spanish and Italian meals. The Portuguese dishes are greatly influenced by Africa.
“Our food is a little different from the (Portugal) mainland. Madeira is close to the coast of Africa. We eat a lot of collard greens, and Jadineira (beef stew with vegetables served with rice),” Jose Sapeta explained.
Menu items include Carne a Alentejana, with cubes of lean pork marinated with wine and garlic, and cubes of potatoes and clams; and Zuppi Dippicci, a seafood stew with capellini and a marinara sauce.
Portuguese dishes, grilled sardines and salted cod were popular at the July communal lunch.
It was the second visit to the restaurant in three days for Aida Moreira, a native of Portugal, and her 11-year-old daughter, Catarina. The family had moved to metro Atlanta from Rhode Island that week.
“My husband discovered it during his business travels,” Moreira said. “Very nice food. I came to socialize and get to know people.”