Meat Lovers, Meet Churrascaria Saudades

The Brazilian steakhouse offers almost anything you could want, any way you want it. Life will never be the same.

Encountering Churrascaria Saudades Brazilian Steakhouse is duly impressive. You enter to find, on the left, a long, glass-fronted wine room stacked floor to ceiling with bottles from around the world. To the right, a long, black granite bar tops waves of gleaming white, dramatically lit composite. It’s not a bad place to enjoy a caipirinha while you wait for a table if, like us, you neglected to make reservations.

Six months after opening, reservations are still suggested, even on weeknights. It seems that the Brazilian steak house trend that started to swell in the big cities about 10 years ago is still so novel to us, it’s attracting curious diners by the droves. And it is apparent that many of those already familiar with the concept through places such as Fogo de Chão in Philly quickly became Churrascaria Saudades regulars.

For those not acquainted with Brazilian steak houses, they are, for most, all about meat, meat and more meat. The restaurants are famous for b0th the variety and the quantity of charbroiled or roasted cuts served by passadores (meat waiters) who patrol the dining room bearing skewers—or in one case a sword—loaded with freshly cooked beef, lamb, pork and chicken.

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From left to right: A passadore makes the rounds; the top sirloin and sausage

It’s called rodízio service. You, the diner, signal that you’d like a serving via a card on your table. Flipped to the red side, you eat in peace. Turned to the green side, the passadores visit your table to offer whatever they happen to be serving. If it’s to your liking, they slice or slide it directly onto your plate. Another server delivers drinks, complimentary side dishes and anything else you might desire. The fixed price includes the sides (others are available a la carte) and meat, so you can eat as little or as much as you’d like.

It’s easy to go overboard, but walking out feeling like you won’t need to eat for a week is all part of the fun—and that feeling is intended by your hosts.

The concept springs from the history of cattle ranching in Brazil. Home to the second-largest commercial herd in the world, the country is one of the biggest beef producers and certainly the largest exporter. Its legendary cowboys are renowned for their churrascos, feasts of meat broiled over open fires. Because there was no way to preserve beef while driving cattle across the range, a slaughtered steer—a primary source of food—had to be eaten at once or wasted. The saudades in Churrascaria Saudades translates roughly to romantic longing for such a time and place in the past. Any overgrown kid who ever dreamed of being a cowboy—and anyone who recalls great meals in vivid detail—will get it.

Beyond the lounge await cavernous dining rooms with tables covered in white and servers dressed in black, an elegant combination all but vanished from restaurants these days. The black and white also make a pleasing contrast with the earth-toned wall coverings and carpets.

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Bartender Shahzod Rahimov garnishes a caipirinha

The aforementioned salad bar dominates the rear of the main room. It is loaded with the usual ingredients—several types of greens, tomatoes and cucumbers, vegetables such as grilled asparagus, olives, pasta salads and more—plus traditional side dishes such as rice and beans, cheeses, smoked salmon and even more meat, in the form of mortadella and other cured meats. One could easily make a meal at the salad bar, which is available for a separate price.

Have no illusions—no matter how lightly you graze at the salad bar, you will likely be unable to sample the 15 varieties of meat served. Nor will you be able to guess what’s coming or when. We chose what was offered as it came. That included tender filet mignon, rotisserie prime rib, nicely seasoned leg of lamb, slow-roasted pork ribs and the national favorite: top sirloin. Each is offered at several degrees of cooked, from rare to well done. Simply tell the server where to cut. The prime rib and lamb were outstanding. Nothing disappointed.

Ditto the complimentary sides. We found the sticks of fried polenta ideal for soaking up meat juices. The garlic mashed potatoes were perfectly comforting. The sweetened fried bananas were a delicious reminder that the place is Brazilian, as were the steaming hot cheese puffs called pão de queijo. Warning: They are divine—lightly crisp on the outside, pleasantly chewy and full of Parmesan richness inside. Had I sampled one earlier in the meal, I might have made a meatless dinner of them alone. 

The glass-fronted wine room is stacked floor to ceiling with bottles from around the world

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All that red meat calls for wine, and Churrascaria Saudades obliges nicely with offerings from most of the world’s great wine regions. Bottles range in price from a $29 Malbec from Argentina to $395 for a blend of Bordeaux reds. The list is organized by character—full-bodied, light, zesty whites—rather than varietal. A dozen are offered on tap, with 5-ounce pours ranging from $9 to $14, 12-ounce pours at $16 to $26 and 24-ounce carafes for $30 to $50. There is a modest selection of craft beers on tap. The caipirinha is available as the traditional blend of cane liquor, sugar and lime juice, as well as pineapple flavored and infused with any of various fruits.

On the table for next visit, so to speak, are the meats we didn’t get to: lamb chops, marinated chicken breast wrapped in bacon, bottom sirloin, Parmesan-crusted pork loin and the pork sausage called linguica. Save room for dessert. The Key lime pie is worth the extra stuffing you’re likely to do.

230 E. Main St., No. 203, Newark Shopping Center, Newark, 355-5551,  |  PRICES: Salad bar only: $22.50; Dinner (salad bar, sides, meats): $45; Recommended: eye of prime rib, filet mignon, leg of lamb.

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