Pumping Meat

Wait patiently for the best stuff at Ironbound all-you-can-eat

The first churrascarias—humongous restaurants featuring the all-you-can-eat Brazilian meat pig-out known as the rodizio—touched down in New York a decade ago. Proving the durability of the formula, many of the original spots, like Corona's Green Field and midtown's Churrascaria Plataforma, are still pumping meat. With the recent flood of Brazilian immigrants into Newark's Ironbound district, a whole new crop of these places has popped up, cheaper than the rodizios on this side of the Hudson, and maybe more authentic too. Brasilia Grill is the two-ton offspring of a featherweight café of the same name around the corner on Ferry Street. The coffered ceiling features an indigo sky twinkling with stars, as colorful murals pantomime South American historical themes along the walls.

When a buddy and I visited one weekday afternoon, 300 raucous students from Clifton Park, New Jersey, were settled in the rear half of the dining room. "They've just been to the symphony," one of the teachers lamented, as a pão de queijo—a marble-sized Brazilian cheese roll—flew through the air and landed next to his foot. We had little time to enjoy the student high jinks before meat began to arrive, starting with a long skewer held aloft by a hastening waiter, who was like a crusader charging into battle. Best of the day: beef short ribs of amazing circumference, darkly caramelized on the surface, with crazy veins of fat softening the meat. Also superb that afternoon were outsize chicken wings—the skin sloughing down like the stone drapery on a funerary urn—and an odd, diamond-shaped cut of meat the crusader identified as roast beef. As he planted the sword on our table, he directed us to pick up a small pair of tongs and pull slices of pink flesh from the roast as he cut it.

The rodizio ($15.95 weekday lunch, $20.95 weekday dinner, $22.95 all weekend) includes unlimited trips to a 30-foot salad bar that bisects the vast dining room. In additional to pão de queijo, it features planks of fried yuca; black beans flavored with garlic and bay leaves; Jello, fruit, and Jello with fruit; salt-cod fritters that outwardly look like Colonel Sanders's chicken strips; an intriguing mush of black beans, farofa, and meat called tutu; and a series of composed salads, some of which could be loved only by a Brazilian, like the one that features shredded raw cabbage and sliced prunes. While it might ease the bowels, it could also provoke dangerous explosive gas. Though you can economize by visiting Brasilia Grill on a weekday afternoon, note that your meat and salad selections are half of what they'd be in the evenings and on the weekends.

Let me see your tongs.
photo: Tania Savayan
Let me see your tongs.

Three visits were enough to tell us that the meat choice varies wildly from day to day and from hour to hour. One day the turkey breast fillet wrapped with bacon strips was completely on the money; another time it was dry. Though skirt steak was invariably moist and smoky, you should skip the regular sirloin, which comes in big fatless chunks, in favor of "top sirloin," a cut that looks like a pork chop and proved deliriously tasty on every occasion.

Trust your nose and eyes and tongue, and, once you've identified something you love, refuse a skewer or two until it comes around again.

 
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