Fogo de Chao opens its doors 

It seems the Indy restaurant scene is taking its cues from the movie industry: Swinging in with Indiana Jones this summer blockbuster season (well, maybe just a little before) is Fogo de Chao, among other new eateries. Badaboomz downtown is turning into J.Gumbo’s Down Home Cajun Cookin’ come mid-May; Mo’s Irish Pub (yes, brethren of the steakhouse) has already opened up in Noblesville.

The grand media preview was impressive in its all-inclusivity. “Eat all you want off the bar — and à la carte menu!” my server’s aim-to-please countenance said. “We’re Brazilian! We get royalties from Gisele’s modeling stints!”

How, I wondered, could the Dallas-based (Brazilian born) Fogo de Chao system open more meat-based restaurants at a time when the cost of corn is putting ranchers out of business — and raising the cost of beef?

During a recession, no less. And at $38.50 for non-stop service of prime cuts of beef, pork, chicken and lamb, they haven’t exactly priced themselves out of the park. Not for fine dining, anyway.

But let’s see if this restaurant stays as packed as it was on the night it was free.

Of course, that’s not my problem. What was my problem was that three seconds after I turned over my little green coaster, an authentic Brazilian Gaucho, complete with Portuguese accent and little red neckerchief, pounced upon me to present his stake of steak. “Rer? Medium rer?” he prompted, and I opted for the bloodiest.

I believe one of my earliest and favorite cuts was the alcatra, a tender piece of top sirloin. It tasted like well-seasoned meat — that is, the Euro-Brazilian tradition of slow roasting over an open pit (probably a gas grill here) did not obscure its essence.

But no sooner did I have that on my plate, along with lightly charred, fragrant bottom sirloin (fraldinha), pink-centered filet mignon and various and sundry blood spotting, then another young man offered me his leg of lamb (cordiero). I had to put up my little white flag — or coaster, red side up — to get a bite in.

Vegetarians may gasp in horror at this all-you-can-eat meat fest. Even carnivores question the sensibility of such a seemingly odd practice as being attacked with one genre of food from all sides. But the truth is that A) patrons only get a sliver at a time and B) that sliver is an expertly prepared ambassador of its cut.

Even the chicken leg was as juicy a bird as I’ve had in a while. And the lamb chops were tasty, juicy, salty perfection.

Tips for those planning to brave the beef house: If you like your meat rare like me, wait until the heap of meat has been whittled away toward the middle a bit. The outside of the meat is tasty, but crustier than desirable for those that like their meat almost flakey.

Try the pork sausage. I’m not a big sausage fan. But this juicy pork sausage is small, leaner and seared with a peppery skin.

There are about 15 different cuts of meat, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying them all. Only as much as your stomach pouch will handle with minor stretching.

And remember that people gearing up for eating competitions train by eating a lot of salad to expand their stomachs. You’re in an eating competition of sorts at this churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse. You likely didn’t train for it. So take it easy on the salad bar (unless you’re that vegetarian).

That oasis features big, fresh veggies like giant artichoke caps, asparagus rods, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach; hunks of cheeses, including moist heaps of mozzarella and a giant reel of fruity Reggiano-Parmigiana. There’s also charcuterie, including smoked salmon and proscuitto. The asparagus could have used some vinegar or salt. The Caesar dressing for my salad could have been more pungent. But overall, everything was tasty.

Less healthy sides accompany your meat at the table, and include mashed potatoes, fried (actually more caramelized) bananas and fried polenta. It’s all tempting, as carbohydrates doused in fat tend to be. But I don’t understand the concept of frying polenta, as it eclipses the cornmeal’s thick, usually grainy texture.

I can’t sign off without mentioning the restaurant’s signature caipirinhas (though they have a decent list of Spanish riojas, too). The Brazilian staple is similar to the Cuban mojito, but uses cachaca in place of rum, a bit of Muscovado sugar and lime. Mine was strong enough to start a five-alarm fire, though to be fair, waiter Brian offered to make it “less strong.”

Yeah, and I’d like less meat too.


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Jennifer Litz

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