Because the point of this column is to guide you to great food you can eat in our area for under $20, I usually steer away from “white tablecloth” places.

As a challenge to my budget I went with a friend to the Atlantic Restaurant in Danbury. The Atlantic Restaurant was opened in 2003, and remains a family business. It is owned by David, Helena and Orlando Abrantes and serves very authentic dishes from Portugal. Because Danbury has a thriving Portuguese community it only figures that the long life of this restaurant is testament to how good the food is.

I had eaten at the Atlantic years before and in the back of my mind remembered that the dining room featured said “white tablecloths.” What I had failed to notice was there is a more casual addition to the place: a casual bar with a big-screened TV and a whole slew of regulars chatting with each other. Everything on the menu from the fancy side is available in the bar. This is an old budget-eater’s trick, same food, and no tablecloths.

Another way to pare down the bill is ordering appetizers instead of entrees. I have a medium-sized appetite and unless the appetizers are a spring of parsley on a tiny cube of protein I am fine. Fortunately the “tiny cube” places are often very upscale and not to my wallet or sensibility.

Related: '50s feel at Rawley's Drive-In

More Information

The Atlantic Restaurant

176 Osborne St., Danbury

With the low rumble of a football game on the TV and the chatter of the regulars at the bar, my friend and I ordered four appetizers from the menu. When they arrived (along with a generous complimentary bread basket), the spread practically covered the entire table. These are appetizers on steroids.

Here’s what we had. The signature item is the Clams Atlantico. The server brought us a large plate (I wonder what size plate the entrees come on?) filled with small tender clams simmered in garlic and wine. It is a simple dish, depending entirely on the quality of the clams. The garlic and wine amplify the briny taste of the clams, not disguise it.

The Mediterranean flare of Portuguese food allows for lots of seafood dishes. The menu offers fish, shellfish and octopus. I love shrimp, so I honed in on the grilled shrimp, the shrimp in garlic sauce and the exotically named Camaro a Mozambique that translates to shrimp in hot sauce. The shrimp in garlic sauce was a very large plate of small pink shrimp in a fragrant pool of melted butter and garlic. Simply prepared, it proved more then an ample amount to qualify as a full meal for average appetites.

Related: Wire Mill Saloon's pit masters stick to tradition

When the Clams Recheadas came to the table, I had to laugh. This “appetizer” consisted of four enormous clam shells filled with a mountain of chopped clams, breadcrumbs, spices and butter. They were the biggest stuffed clams I have ever seen and, honestly, four of these big boys were delicious overkill.

Next came Chorica Grelhada, a spicy grilled sausage. The sausage was around 9-inches long and came on a mini-grill lit by high bouncing flames. I did not know what to do with it. These were serious flames, obviously there to char the sausage, but for how long? Do I need a fire extinguisher to blow it out?

The server saw my panicked look and gave a brief discourse on when to turn the sausage, and when to blow out the flames. I could not remember a thing she said, so keeping a watchful eye on my table she again came by and said “now,” meaning to extinguish the flames. It was much harder then blowing out birthday candles, but after a few strong gusts out went the flame and onto my plate was a highly spiced sausage with a nice charred outside. It was a perfect accompaniment to the seafood or, put between the soft slices of Portuguese bread, a great sandwich.

Related: Westfair Fish & Chips does seafood right

If you are not familiar with Portuguese food you might find some of the classic dishes odd. There are meats mixed with clams and many of the dishes come with a fried egg on top. It may seem like strange combinations to the American palate, but worth a try.

I liked everything about the Atlantic with the exception of the desserts. Even the flan was sadly lackluster. The upside of this flaw is that the appetizers and entrees are so generous, you might have no problem going without.

One small post note: The Atlantic offers the usual American colas, but try one of the Portuguese sodas. I got a pineapple one, which was as sweet as the best ripe fruit and exotic to the max.

Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.