Meat Beat

Downtown's new, upscale, all-you-can-eat Brazilian churrascaria will meat you into submission

Fogo de Chão Churrascaria, 645 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612.338.1344, www.fogodechao.com

When I first heard that a Brazilian churrascaria was slated to open in downtown Minneapolis, I thought, Nah, they'll never do it. They will never offer Minnesotans all the steak, lamb, pork, and chicken they can eat, served hot from rotisserie skewers brandished by gauchos sprinting from table to table, carving as they go. They won't! They can't. They'll chicken out; they'll put some kind of portion restriction, weight restriction, height limit, something. After all, the last would-be churrascaria to open here, the now-departed Mojito in St. Louis Park, looked hard at what it means when Minnesotans decide to really eat meat—and turned yellow as a canary among dandelions, chickening out with an à la carte meat menu.

Come on! Minnesotans eating all the meat they can! We're not some wimpy Texans up here—we are a tall, thoughtful people raised on bottomless portions of mushroom-soup casserole, and that breeds not just an unquenchable, Depression-era-style hunger, but the ribcage-to-hipbone length needed to consume a giant meal. Plus, one out of three Minnesota wives has done nothing for the last 30 years but try to keep the menfolk from eating all the steak they can. Plus, Minnesotans are stubborn as granite. Plus, we like bargains. And challenges! I tell you what, I've lived here long enough to know that betting a group of Minnesotans that they can't eat all the meat you've got is like betting a pack of fourth-graders that they can't deafen you.

It's not mastodon, but you'll feel like you've eaten one: One of the many giant skewers of meat at Fogo de Chão
Bill Kelley
It's not mastodon, but you'll feel like you've eaten one: One of the many giant skewers of meat at Fogo de Chão

Location Info

Map

Fogo De Chao

645 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

You just know that there's a sizable number of folks around here who will take this as a personal challenge, and implement training: six days out, initiate pilates torso-stretching routine; five days out, cut handballs in half to use for chewing practice; four days out, purchase elastic pants and maternity tunic; two days out, assemble trolley and leaning board so you can be wheeled out, Silence of the Lambs style....

You know, none of that is really a bad idea when contemplating your first visit to Fogo de Chão, because the food items are nothing short of countless. Countless! The number of foods on offer here is as great as the number of grains of sand on the beach, as vast as the number of burps in a baby, as gargantuan as the number of Swedish meatballs in Christmas. A lot!

Your meal at Fogo de Chão starts with a basket of warm gougeres, and these plump little cheesy-buns are your starting flag. You then run to the center of the room, grab a plate, and set to giggling, or goggling, or both, as you contemplate a salad bar so absurdly overfilled that it looks like one of those fruit stands in a Herbie the Love Bug movie, before the villain-car drives through it. What's in it? Everything: three sorts of olives as big as quail's eggs; morsels of real Parmiagiano Reggiano plucked from a bowl made from one of the whole enormous cheeses, filled with itself; three other sorts of hard cheeses and pale golf balls of fresh mozzarella; slices of pink smoked salmon; salami; a thin, bright, Prosciutto-like ham; sun-dried tomatoes; big, wavy-gilled marinated mushrooms; whole brined artichoke hearts; hearts of palm as big as police batons; roasted red and yellow bell peppers; endive; pickled hot cherry peppers; makings for Caesar salad; roast, sliced rounds of beets; endive; a creamy apple salad; two sorts of potato salad; a roast green bean salad; steamed broccoli; a minced parsley salad; huge steamed asparagus spears; slices of good bread; and probably another hundred things I've forgotten.

What are you supposed to do with all of this? Beats me. The servers I talked to at Fogo de Chão told me that some people ignore the salad bar entirely, some do a salad course and then proceed to a meat marathon, others break up the night with little trips to the salad bar, little piles of meat, and so on. One night I somehow ended up with two dinner plates side by side, and that worked well enough, with one for meat and one for "salad." Yeah, it's a free for all.

Then the meat starts to pour in. Here's how that happens: There are about a dozen cuts of meat on offer at every meal at Fogo de Chão, and "gauchos"—guys in great flared pants with high boots—run around serving them from huge rotisserie skewers. These gauchos are incredibly quick. I saw some of them carry a stick of chops or kabobs all the way from the kitchen to a dining room 150 feet away, serve a dozen people, and when they got to me, the meat was still hot. Now, to get this meat you take your special little signal chip—it's a coaster that's red on one side and green on the other—and flip it so that the green side is up. Green means go, and go you do: You go eat meat.

The options available on any given night can include: little lamb chops, roasted crisp and crunchy. A big old leg of lamb, carved off the bone, meaty and plain. Mild pork ribs, on the bone, roasted plain. Pork fillet, cut into kabob-like chunks, roasted with a tangy Parmesan coating. Huge, Flintstones-style beef ribs, which support a beefy lace that's as fatty and rich as bacon. Little squares of bacon-wrapped beef or chicken filet. Chicken legs. Mild, juicy pork sausages. Filet mignon, cleverly arranged on the rotisserie skewer so that some cubes are medium, some medium rare, some fully rare—you get the idea. Garlic-marinated beef filet.

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