My server, dressed in black from head to toe, leaned against the bar in No Coward Soul’s back dining room, pointing directly at me with a pen. “He’s laughing at our music,” she remarked to another passing server.

Impishly, she smiled and called across the mostly empty space, “Are you laughing at our music?”

I was. But not because it was bad.

My giggle reflex was triggered when I heard the opening swells and syncopated brass burbles of Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” from the speakers overhead…for the third time that hour.

A week earlier, Billie Holiday was in endless rotation on the Bath restaurant’s all-vinyl sound system. The kettle drum at the start of “Lady Sings the Blues” seemed to announce the arrival of each course, from soup (boom) to dessert (bam).

Many of the albums that flank the stereo – everything from The Smiths to Leon Russell, even a fado record or two to reflect the restaurant’s Portuguese theme – come from owner/general manager Johnny Lomba’s private collection. “I’m a carpenter, but I used to work at a record store,” he said. “I left Maine with 35 records and came back two years later with more than a thousand.”

Vinyl isn’t the only personal possession Lomba enlisted to outfit No Coward Soul. His framed photo of Burl Ives guards the entrance to the kitchen, while an eclectic selection of vintage portraits and daguerreotypes dangle over the dark-lacquered booths in the annex dining room. And mixed in among the restaurant’s other treasures: a turn-of-the-century steamer trunk, an antique typewriter and at least four depictions of Elvis, including one of the singer in tears.

Curry plates a serving of the standout piri piri chicken, which is rubbed in paprika and cayenne, then marinated in garlic and black pepper.

“It’s all my stuff. I finally have a house now and don’t have a damn thing on the walls!” Lomba said with a laugh. “But I wanted to make it feel like home in here. And the crying Elvis belonged to my friend Putty, who I’m convinced died of a broken heart. It was near and dear to him. It’s a tribute to him. Actually, the restaurant itself is a kind of tribute to people who have been important to me.”

Chiefly, the paternal branch of Lomba’s family – the Portuguese side.

No Coward Soul’s abbreviated menu of a dozen dishes is its own retro greatest hits album (vinyl-issue only) of Portuguese cuisine. All the classics are here, from a brothy, slurpable caldo verde soup with huge chunks of potato ($8), to Plantito’s jag ($12), an aromatic Cape Verdean dish of swollen lima beans embedded in paprika-stained fried rice.

Chef Seth Walker (Rangeley Tavern), one of Lomba’s old friends, came on board as chef in August, just a few months after the restaurant opened. He was no stranger to this building’s kitchen, either, having cooked here recently, when it was part of Solo Bistro, as well as three decades ago, when the space was a sandwich shop.

But until this year, Portuguese food was unfamiliar to him. “I ended up doing a lot of research,” he said. “I got books out from the library, searched Google, and I rely on Johnny, who tells me how his grandmother used to make things.”

Nearly three months after my first visit this summer, it’s clear that Walker is starting to hit his stride, gaining confidence with a crispy-skinned, confit-style duck ($24) served with jag and fluorescent-green, garlicky sautéed kale. Had the kale not been gritty (on both of my November meals), I would have asked for a second helping.

Ultimately, you can’t keep a chef’s personal influences out of his food. That’s not a bad thing, either. Largely through daily or weekly specials, Walker has begun building a repertoire of Luso-Southern dishes that allude to his upbringing on the other side of the Mason-Dixon.

The eclectic array of art includes at least four depictions of Elvis.

There’s a not-so-oblique nod to jambalaya in his fiery-hot tomato soup ($8), rich with onion, pulled chicken meat and chunks of chourico that drool crimson droplets of fat onto the surface of the bowl as you eat. And a decadent, if too-sweet, riff on No Coward Soul’s extra-creamy farro side dish ($9) that combines the plump ancient grain with strips of linguica sausage and crumbled Ritz crackers, all baked together in what Lomba describes as “mac-and-cheese style.”

Occasional misfires with the menu do happen, however. Take the kitchen’s version of beer cake ($6), a recipe from renowned Portuguese home cooking expert Ana Ortins. Fortified with feather-light Kölsch ale and baked in a sheet pan rather than a bundt- or tube pan, the cake turned out tight-crumbed and gluey, more like underbaked bread than dessert. A sugary elderflower drizzle ought to have helped, but it was as floral as bubble bath and overwhelmed every forkful. When my server turned the corner, I hid my slice in the take-out box that held my leftover duck.

Piri Piri Chicken at No Coward Soul restaurant in Bath. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Walker’s take on another dessert – an egg custard called “pastel de nata” ($6) – is better, yet still needs substantial tweaking. Usually heavily browned on top (almost broiled) and bordered by a golden, laminated pastry shell that flakes away in papery layers, these custardy tarts are Portugal’s signature dessert with good reason. At No Coward Soul, they’re wan and not fully set, with a shell that looks and tastes like it was made from store-bought puff pastry. It’s hard not to eat one and wonder what it would have tasted like, had it been baked in a much hotter oven until it erupted in dark blisters across the custard’s surface. Fortunately that’s an easy fix.

One dish that needs absolutely no adjustments is the piri piri chicken ($21). Rubbed in paprika and cayenne, then marinated in garlic and black pepper, each quarter-chicken gets pan-fried and finished in a hot oven until its exterior wrinkles into tight, crackling-crisp skin. Walker serves his fantastic, garlic-and-oil nappéd bird with his indulgent, creamy farro and, in a nod to tradition, simple slices of hard-boiled egg.

I have eaten No Coward Soul’s piri piri chicken twice in the past few weeks, and would quite happily return – for that dish alone – another two, even three times before the month ends. It is that good. And if you think I sound crazy, well, je ne regrette rien.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at:

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Twitter:@AndrewRossME