Brazilian Grill turns Hoosier “meat-on-a-stick” love on its head
Brazilian-style churrascarias, rotisserie steakhouses believed to derive from the barbecuing rituals of southern Brazilian ranchers, or gauchos, have been popping up in most major American cities over the last decade, offering a novel alternative to basic steakhouse fare. Until now, however, most local diners have had to get their grilled meat on a stick from the State Fair or kabob joints with roots in the Eastern Hemisphere, not the Southern. Sure, we Hoosiers know our meat — but not like this.
Thankfully, the husband-wife team of Andy and native Brazilian Karla Bledsoe are changing things with Indy’s first authentic churrascaria, Brazilian Grill, in a sprawling strip mall on Lake Circle Drive. While its windows face a perennially packed parking lot, the interior provides a soothing, if understated retreat. Walls the complexion of burnt butter are hung with dark stained shutters, giving the place the feel of a centuries-old Brazilian mission, albeit equipped with a pretty spiffy, well-stocked bar.
Being the city’s first restaurant of its kind, it had to encompass all the classic elements of the churrascaria, and the Bledsoes and their team have clearly made sure that diners who’ve been at similar eateries in other cities — even São Paulo or Porto Allegre — will be at home. As an independent restaurant, however, Brazilian Grill is lower on gimmick (and price) than such popular chains as Fogo de Chão.
Still, if you’ve never experienced this style of dining, it’s wise to know a few things going in. First off, while there’s a buffet-like air to the place, the food comes to you. At least most of it. Almost from the time you arrive and settle into your seats, servers stroll by your table wielding sword-like rodzios and arm-length knives, ready to slice off a juicy piece of one of 10 grilled meats available each night, everything from utterly tender top sirloin to the chewier but richly flavored “lifter” (flatiron) steak to bacon-wrapped tilapia to chicken drumsticks, sweet pork sausages and nuggets of smoked turkey, so many meats you can hardly remember them after you’re done.
To stave off the onslaught, diners are given square cards with a green side (More meat, please!) and a red side (Not another bite!) to indicate just how much room you’ve got left. Being the polite and accommodating waiters they are, however, the servers hardly ever pass without offering their wares, even stopping by when the red squares are up. A couple of times, our belts straining, we had to tell a server to let us catch our breath.
Because they’ve only got two hands (mothers will relate), the servers often need “help,” and tongs on the table allow diners to hold onto their meat during the final freeing slice. It’s a curiously intimate moment, but it adds to the charm and warmth of the mealtime experience. A suggestion: Sit at a table in the middle of the dining room lest you force the diners on the aisle to do all the work.
While you may think this is an entirely carnivorous eatery, customers can actually stand up and walk the few feet to two buffet carts in the back bearing a selection of starches, stews and salads. Compared to the succulent meats, these items need a little help. On two occasions, salad greens and toppings were less than inspiring, though hot items were more interesting, especially sweet fried bananas, black beans, crispy little chicken bites and a deliciously comforting beef stew. Savory mini-cheese biscuits at the table complete the savory portion of the meal.
Among drinks, aperitifs are a must, especially the sweet and mellow caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail concocted from sugar, lime and cachaça, a rum-like sugar cane spirit. They rival some of the best. The bartender’s first attempt at the Ciroc Ultimate Grapetini, however, was less successful, with red grape juice rather than promised white, Ciroc vodka (distilled from grapes), champagne and far too much discernable coarse sugar. This toxic Kool-Aid threatened to do us in. For kiddies, guarana is a sophisticated sparkler, a bit like an exotic cream soda.
Desserts ($7.50) can hit or miss. A coffee flan was stiff and gelatinous, and a deep dark chocolate cake a tad dense and dry. On a second visit, however, a slice of a luscious white mousse cake with a chocolate crumb crust proved meat wasn’t all this restaurant could do well. For a total sum of $27.50 per adult (drinks and desserts excluded), meals here are a relative bargain over most true steakhouses, though with this much meat, you might save it for a celebration — which any meal at Brazilian Grill will quickly become.
2654 Lake Circle Drive
Tuesday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Food: Four stars
Atmosphere: Three and a half stars
Service: Four stars
Nonsmoking, Handicapped accessible
Recommended dishes: meat!