Boi Na Brasa is one of a half dozen real Brazilian churrascarias to open in Newark’s Ironbound in the last two years. The lure of these places for New Yorkers is an all-you-can-eat meat feast at half the price you’d pay in the city, where churrascarias catering mainly to non-Brazilians have been popular for a decade. Now for $19.95 ($15.95 at lunch) and the price of a round trip on the PATH—which takes 30 to 45 minutes to go from Penn Station to Newark, merrily stopping in Chelsea and Greenwich Village along the way—you can eat your way through a mountain of charcoal-grilled flesh.
Boi Na Brasa (“bull on the coals”) is a few steps north of Ferry Street, Ironbound’s main drag, ensconced in a mini shopping mall made to look like a Brazilian farmstead, sporting massive brick arches, rough-hewn woods, red tile roofing, and hanging farm implements. The salad bar inside the front door looks like crap—mainly mayo-gobbed salads, canned beets and peas, pale pickles, and boiled eggs. A very good sign, we thought. While Manhattan and Queens churrascarias often flaunt mile-long salad bars replete with feijoada, garlic chicken, pastas, and dozens of well-dressed salads, the purpose of these lavish displays—which one visits before the meat begins to arrive—is to distract you from the pricier beef, pork, and poultry to follow.
The menu includes a cheap list of Spanish and Portuguese wines, but somewhat astonishingly, you are also encouraged to bring your own wine with no corkage fee. The beef is so good here, you can bring that Bordeaux or Barolo you’ve been saving. The cheaper cuts often arrive first, ferried by black-clad cowboys: skewers of wee chicken hearts, like rubbery misshapen marbles; chicken drumsticks, the end broken off to facilitate sucking marrow, making them look more like thighs; and pork shish kebab that’s been marinated so it tastes almost Chinese. You can easily skip the first and last, but don’t miss the drumsticks.
The place mat shows an ox with cuts delineated in Portuguese and English. Most of the cuts translate “sirloin” in English. The most desirable according to the place mat is the animal’s hump. Unfortunately, the American cattle used in Newark have no hump. That’s OK, because all of the so-called sirloins are magnificent. Picanha comes thickly rimmed with crisp fat. Rareness be damned: It’s the caramelized exposed surface that sets Brazilian hearts racing, and the cowboy returns again and again to the rotisserie to insure that his customers always receive smoking end slices. The beef rib is a better bet if you prefer your meat dripping blood—it, too, comes blackened on the outside, each rib a good quarter pound. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the meat parade also includes skirt steak, but most days they seem to have the excellent “bottom sirloin,” an elongated cut textured like pot roast, salty and supremely beefy.
As the evening wears on, and the solo guitarist launches into “Hotel California” sung in a Portuguese-English patois, competition heats up among the cowboys to peddle the remaining meat. Some simply become more aggressive, carrying skewer after skewer to the tables where people are still eating. Some of the more enterprising guys, though, brush their meat with garlic sauce, and the pungent smell as it mixes with the meat’s sizzle is irresistible.