Cafe Reviews

Brazil Nuts

I recently read online that the ugliest man in Hollywood, and a piss-poor actor to boot, Billy Bob Thornton, badmouthed the immortal Bard, calling Shakespeare "bullshit," and thereby confirming my opinion of Monsieur Sling Blade as one dumb redneck. I take comfort in the fact that BBT's fame is short-lived, and that five years after the homely thespian's demise, he's sure to be confused with some refugee from the cast of Hee Haw, while Willy Boy's fame will endure. Still, what I wouldn't give to see a giant meteor fall from the heavens and squash BBT like a hunk of I-10 road kill. Alas, karma rarely works that quickly, save perhaps in the case of Scottsdale's Brazeiro Steakhouse, which went out of business about a week ago.

Those of you who peruse this column regularly will remember that I dissed the churrascaria a few months back ("Brazilian Bust," May 20), pointing out several problems with the too-large rodizio joint, including billiard ball-like bread and meat that mostly was not up to snuff. I'm no schadenfreude-addict, but at least in the case of Brazeiro, we can say that it's no great loss for the Valley's restaurant industry. Word on the street is that the owners are looking for another locale, maybe one less posh than Brazeiro's erstwhile Fashion Square address. One only hopes that if it does reopen somewhere down the line, the owners will put a higher premium on the quality of their comestibles.

Since that review, I've had a number of readers ask where, oh where one can enjoy decent rodizio in our toddlin' town, and with Brazeiro now defunct, it seems the perfect time to answer these queries in print. For superlative churrascaria in Greater Phoenix, one must travel to the enchanted Kingdom of Ahwatukee, where soccer moms roam free and a man is only as big as his SUV. There, in a shopping center at the corner of 48th Street and Chandler, sits Fogo e Brasa, the best reason I know of for calling Ahwatukee home, excepting perhaps the soon-to-open Ikea, just up the freeway a bit in Tempe.

Fogo e Brasa, Portuguese for "fire and charcoal," has been in operation for two-and-a-half years, and enjoys a devout following among the business community, which often wines and dines groups there, knowing that when done right the churrascaria concept is bound to leave clients sated and a size or two larger in the breeches. See, Fogo e Brasa boasts a 20-item Brazilian-style salad bar with everything from hearts of palm, deviled eggs and chicken stroganoff to shrimp, octopus and white wine-drenched tilapia. A word to the wide, though: this bounteous buffet is but a prelude to the rodizio; i.e., the meat brought to your table once you turn your red-yellow-green wooden sinal so that the green faces up. Thus, I advise you to keep your portions small while at F & B's smorgasbord, though doing so will require the patience of a saint with all these goodies on display.

Each table receives a basket of pao de queijo, chewy, Brazilian cheese bread balls, which here at Fogo e Brasa are as soft, warm and scrumptious as they're supposed to be. And when you signal that you're ready to inhale vast amounts of protein, the waiter brings several traditional sides, such as fried bananas, rice, beans, and farofa (dry manioc meal that you sprinkle over your rice and beans). At last comes the meat -- eight different kinds for dinner, including sausage, top sirloin, garlic sirloin, tri-tip, bacon-wrapped turkey, ham, and lamb. Really, I must compliment Fogo e Brasa on the quality of the animal flesh they serve. Each cut is succulent, flavorful, and seasoned just enough to trap in the juices. Even the sausage was first-rate, though I especially liked the tri-tip, the lamb and the top sirloin. In addition, grilled pineapple is often brought around on one of the skewers as a refreshing pause between meats.

Atmosphere-wise, you might call Fogo e Brasa "Brazil-lite." The servers are attired in ties and dark aprons, without the gaucho pantaloons and the colorful belts you might see at Brazilian spots elsewhere. Above the open kitchen is F & B's bull logo, and on the walls of burnt ochre are carnival dancers crafted from red, yellow and green mosaics. The tables are low and covered with merlot-hued tablecloths, and generally there's nothing that hits you over the head about the place. My only quibble is that I felt that the tables were too close together for my own comfort. Well, that, and the chairs had these well-oiled rollers on them that made me fear I might barrel over my neighbors whenever I rose from the board. Indeed, I put the fear of death into one old bird seated next to me who for a moment may have thought her last sight was to be the broad backside of a Jackie Gleason look-alike!

When it comes to liquid refreshment, F & B's barkeep slings a mean caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil, and there's also the black, sweet taste of Brazilian Xingu brand beer to be had. But I took great delight during both of my visits in this Argentine Cabernet Terrazas and had a bottle each time. Terrazas is a subsidiary of champagne makers Moet and Chandon, who know a thing or two about enology. The full-bodied, fruity red possesses enough backbone to stand up to an onslaught of viands. I recommend it highly for your meal.

The dessert cart at F & B is a thing of majesty to behold, and I enjoyed the three sweets I tried: a chocolate mousse, a passion fruit mousse, and two chocolate brigadeiros. A brigadeiro is a sort of chocolate truffle, coated with chocolate sprinkles on the outside, and sticky and dense on the inside. I downed these black bonbons with a pint of Xingu and was quite pleased with myself. However, the chocolate mousse is fantastic as well, and so thick it could double for a cake's frosting. The passion fruit mousse is lighter and a better palate cleanser than the other two, but I want more brigadeiros, bub. And dagnabbit, I'm even prepared to return to Ahwatukee to get them. Now if that ain't dedication, what is?

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons