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Liberal Club

20 Star St., Fall River, MA -
Posted By Michael Stern on 3/6/2013 4:55:00 AM
The Liberal Club menu is a primer of south coast Portuguese-American fare, from chourico sausage and marinated conch salad to shrimp Mozambique and steak topped with a fried egg and hot pepper. Joe Benevides, who has run it since 1975, is a seafood fanatic. Veins throb in his temples when he gets going on the subject of scallops. It is common, he says, for second-rate purveyors to treat them with sodium tripolyphosphate so they bulk up and look bigger. "It kills, absolutely kills the flavor," he announces to our booth and the booths around us. "We have the best seafood in the world, right here, from New Bedford. Why mess with it?" To prove the point, he personally brings out a silver plate of 4 baked dayboat scallops for sampling. Gilded with a translucent veil of breadcrumbs and set in a sizzling pool of garlic-charged melted butter that blends with fallen crumbs to create veins of wicked crunch on the bottom of the serving dish, they are dense and creamy, each single one a nice appetizer.

When other appetizers arrive – onion rings, stuffies, fried smelts and calamari sautéed in garlic, oil, and hot peppers – the waitress asks if we want oil and vinegar to go with them. "You do!" she says when we look puzzled by the mundane offering. Out comes a gravy boat full of marinade so crowded with herbs, minced garlic and chopped green onion that each spoonful is a savory bouquet delicious enough to spread like tapenade across pieces of dinner roll torn from the bread basket.

Located in a neighborhood of homes, industry, and business all interspersed – a configuration typical of Fall River since its salad days – the Liberal Club is more than a restaurant. It also is a bar, a social club, and a function hall. Regulars come for shots and beers in the cool, dark tap room every weekday morning and couples come on Saturday night for highballs, prime rib, and whole lobsters or fried lobster tails. While the banquet rooms are capacious, the restaurant's dining room is small and modest, its wooden booths arranged side by side in such a way that a partition can be removed between two, making them into a long table for a party of eight. It began as a soccer club in 1915, when soccer was huge in Fall River among immigrants from the British Isles, and the club continues to run the bar, separate from the restaurant. That means you place orders with two waitresses – one from the restaurant, one from the bar – and you pay two checks, one for food, the other for drinks.

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Scorecard

4 - Overall: One of the Best - Worth a Trip
Overall: One of the Best - Worth a Trip
Baked Scallops
Chourico
Chicken Mozambique
Deep Fried Lobster Tail
Kale Soup
Smelt
Oil & Vinegar
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Dense, creamy, and fresh as an ocean breeze, dayboat scallops are sure proof of the Liberal Club's passion for high quality local seafood.
"Dense, creamy, and fresh as an ocean breeze, dayboat scallops are sure proof of the Liberal Club's passion for high quality local seafood."
Michael Stern





If Fall River were to select an official city food, it would be Kale soup, of which the Liberal Club kitchen makes a hale and hearty version.
"If Fall River were to select an official city food, it would be Kale soup, of which the Liberal Club kitchen makes a hale and hearty version."
Michael Stern


If you think that 'oil and vinegar' sounds boring, dip a spoon into it at the Liberal Club. It is a relish more than a dressing, thick with garlic, onions, and herbs.
"If you think that 'oil and vinegar' sounds boring, dip a spoon into it at the Liberal Club. It is a relish more than a dressing, thick with garlic, onions, and herbs."
Michael Stern


On the left, smelt; right, calamari. Both are available  sauteed in garlic, oil and hot peppers or, as seen here, simply fried and accompanied by a gravy boat full of the kitchen's marvelous oil and vinegar marinade.
"On the left, smelt; right, calamari. Both are available sauteed in garlic, oil and hot peppers or, as seen here, simply fried and accompanied by a gravy boat full of the kitchen's marvelous oil and vinegar marinade."
Michael Stern


Sauteed chicken in a buttery and brightly-spiced lemon-garlic sauce is known as chicken Mozambique.
"Sauteed chicken in a buttery and brightly-spiced lemon-garlic sauce is known as chicken Mozambique."
Michael Stern


I like lobster tails and I like things that are expertly deep fried. This is both, and yet I am not sure it does justice to either the luxurious tail or the plush breading around it. Overkill?
"I like lobster tails and I like things that are expertly deep fried. This is both, and yet I am not sure it does justice to either the luxurious tail or the plush breading around it. Overkill?"
Michael Stern


This is the bar at the Liberal Club, separate from the restaurant. For pre-lunch boilermakers, it's the place to be.
"This is the bar at the Liberal Club, separate from the restaurant. For pre-lunch boilermakers, it's the place to be."
Michael Stern


On the left is what's known as chourico meat, on the right, chourico. The former is broad, thin slices of marinated pork loin, the latter nuggets of the more familiar cased sausage.
"On the left is what's known as chourico meat, on the right, chourico. The former is broad, thin slices of marinated pork loin, the latter nuggets of the more familiar cased sausage."
Michael Stern


A rather stark building in a stark neighborhood, the Liberal Club actually is a nexus of good cheer and very good food.
"A rather stark building in a stark neighborhood, the Liberal Club actually is a nexus of good cheer and very good food."
Michael Stern



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