“We have a joke in Portugal that there are 365 ways to cook cod,” says Tito Vitorino of Amore. He and his wife, Liana, would know. Despite their vast experience managing one of Sarasota’s Italian food favorites, they grew up eating every permutation of cod under the sun in their native country of Portugal—baked cod, salted cod, cod fritters, cod stew, seared cod, cod salad, cod sandwiches. So, after their start-and-stop run with the Burns Court location that saw the restaurant succumb to the pressures of COVID-19, the Vitorinos laid low and returned earlier this year at the Colonial Village Shopping Center at Fruitville and Lime with a pared-down version of their Italian selections and the addition of a Portuguese menu that will have cod swimming for their lives.

The celebration of Portugal’s “faithful friend” (as it is known in the European nation), begins right away with the appetizer selections. Both the espinheta de bacalhau and the bolinhos de bacalhau (“bacalhau” is “cod” in Portuguese) make use of salted cod, which played a major role in Portugal’s ability to dominate the seas in the age of exploration. Early seafarers pickled the fish with salt and created a highly nutritious food source that kept well on long voyages. 

With the espinheta, Amore introduces Sarasota to a Portuguese staple similar to ceviche. Raw shredded and salted cod gets mixed with sliced onion, garlic, parsley and black olives, and is then tossed with olive oil and red wine vinegar and served atop a bed of mixed greens. Tangy and chunky, the dish eats more like a cold entree than an appetizer. The bolinhos (fritters) come as fluffy little football-shaped pockets of mashed potato and salted cod spiced with onion, parsley and garlic, with garlic aioli and a marinara sauce served on the side. A farinheira and alheira croquette (a newer appetizer to the Portuguese half of the menu that offers a brief reprieve for cod) contains two varieties of minced sausage rolled into a ball with potato, then breaded and fried. Alheira, made traditionally from poultry, is believed to have been devised by Portuguese Jews, according to Chef Tito. Farinheira is made from wheat, pork fat and spices. The croquettes come served atop a shallow puddle of tangy piri piri sauce—a Portuguese condiment appropriated from Africa that can taste anywhere from mustard-like (like Amore’s) to spicy.

Back to terrorizing cod, the bacalhau a lagareiro features a massive cut of cod loin filet baked atop large chunks of potato, asparagus spears and green beans, all of it doused in the olive oil it is basted in and topped with braised onions. The tender, flaky cod loin maintains its shape only by the grace of the bones in this particular cut. At the bottom of the bowl, the rich gravy (composed primarily of olive oil) offers the perfect dip for one of Amore’s signature garlic breadsticks—warm, salty and liable to leave little room for dessert.

But by far the most striking dish on the menu comes from the southern coast of Portugal in the Algarve region. Here, a robust history of sea trade and fishing has yielded a seafood dish named after the pot it is made in: cataplana. An expensive clam-shaped pot, made traditionally of copper, the top half of a cataplana opens on a set of hinges while two latches help seal it shut when placed over heat. Like a crude pressure cooker, the pot traps the heat and recycles the contents’ juices until it creates a stew of extraordinarily rich flavor. Amore’s cataplana de marisco features lobster tail, shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, bell peppers and potatoes in a briny broth that explores new depths of decadent umami. For those unwilling to brave the seafood preparation, the cataplana alentejana comes with marinated pork tenderloin, clams and potatoes in a white wine and pepper broth.

Notably, the cataplanas offer one of the few safe harbors for cod on the Portuguese menu, but enough of cod’s neighbors are present to send a stark message: we’re coming for you, cod.  SRQ    

Amore Restaurant, 180 North Lime Ave., Sarasota, 941-383-1111, amorelbk.com.