With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Hartford Food Guy: Brazil Grill

Last Friday a friend took me to lunch at the Brazil Grill on Park Street (between Heath and Dorothy Streets on the north side of Park). It was not the first time I had been there (and it won’t be the last) and I had been looking forward to it all week, and not just because my friend was buying.

If you even causally follow this blog you know how much I love Portuguese food. I also love Brazilian food, but the two don't have all that much in common, notwithstanding the relationship between the two countries.

Indeed, the relationship between them is a lot like the relationship between English cuisine (if you can call it that) and American food. There are some common elements, but the latter has been impacted by so many other influences that it is something wholly distinct from the former.

In fact, there's an old saying that the British and the Americans are two people separated by a common language. The same could be said of the Portuguese and the Brazilians and there are a lot of similarities between the two relationships: an historic seafaring European power and its former colony; a colony which developed into a country still related in a lot of ways to the mother country but which has its own history; a new people who speak the same language as that spoken in the mother country, but with unique phrases, words, pronunciations, and idioms; and a new country whose people have their own ethnic identity which is fusion of different influences far beyond its colonial inheritance.

Anyway, my friend is naturalized U.S. citizen who came from Brazil when she was a little girl (ema pequeno menina) so she was the perfect lunch companion (and not just because her Portuguese is about 1,000 times better than mine), which was exactly why I suggested the Brazil Grill as our destination.

The Brazil Grill is like several other churrascarias at which I have eaten. It has a large dining area, with several TV’s where my friend told me that every Brazilian in Hartford – her included – watched all of Brazil’s matches in the World Cup (Copo D Mundo). It is, however, a self-service affair, and you wait in a long (and crowded) line that winds its way past several serving stations. The initial ones have many traditional Brazilian dishes, such as black beans and rice and stewed ochre (both of which ended up on my plate and which were delicious) and (about once a week) feijoada.

For the uninitiated, feijoada may well be the national dish of Brazil. It derives from the stews that the African slaves and indigenous people made from whatever they could gather and the parts of various animals the Portuguese colonists didn’t want – an early and improvised form of nose-to-tail cooking, if you will. Feijoada has a special significance to many Brazilians (at least as explained to me) because it is both a reminder of who they were and perhaps representative of who they are, a blend of European and indigenous influences (a particularly delicious blend in the case of say Adriana Lima or Gisele Bundchen, but that’s another story). Not only is feijoada an important part of the Brazilian cultural identity, it is also amazing and if you’ve never had it, you really are missing out.

Anyway, back to the churrascaria. After you make your way through the preliminaries, you end up at the cutting board, where a friendly fellow who speaks precious little English (which isn’t a problem since most of the customers are Brazilians) is happy to take various spits off the open flame and slice as much meat as you want (:> x 20). The offerings change regularly (most likely based on availability and the mood of the cooks) but thanks to my friend’s fluent Portuguese and her knowledge of churrascaria we were served generous portions of pork loin and picanha (which is the rump cut of a steak). We also got several plump pork sausages right off another spit.

The picanha was amazing. A lot of people say that the rump cut is the most tender and they may be right as our picanha was extremely tender, moist, and had that wonderful flavor you can get only by exposing beef to an open flame (:> x 10).

I also loved the pork loin. It was perfectly marinated and cooked just enough, but not so much as to dry it out. The juice was dripping out of it even before I took a bite (:> x 10).

The sausages were also great. They had a wonderful flavor, were quite juicy, and had just a little bit of char on the outer casing (:> x10).

I have no idea how much out lunch cost as my companion picked up the tab (one neat feature is you pay by the pound), but it can’t be too expensive. Brazil Grill caters to a blue-collar (and incredibly hardworking) crowd of Brazilian immigrants and first generation Americans who are looking for a no-frills taste of home, not a fancy fine dining experience. I am glad they can find it at the Brazil Grill because that means I get my own little taste of Brazil as well (:> x 25).

Like a lot of classic ethnic restaurants Brazil Grill also has all sorts of interesting authentic drinks (I had passion fruit juice) and candies (yes, I had some on the drive back to work :>), but it doesn’t have a website


  1. Great Review and I agree. I speak nothing but English & they are polite, always accommodating to me. I don't go when soccer is on TV because it gets a little too boisterous, but since I am in the neighborhood, it is a special treat I really enjoy. Try George's Pizza, across from the grill. It is unfairly out shined by Lena's Pizza, next door.

    BTW, what does "(:> x 25)" mean?

  2. Brazil Grill is by far my favorite place in Hartford. It's cheap, delicious, you only take the stuff you want and exactly how much you want, and the people are super friendly. I ate there yesterday and after reading this I'm having a really hard time keeping myself from heading over there right now.

    Thanks Tim for the recommendation. I've been to Lena's and the kid behind the counter was ridiculously rude. As I was trying to order a slice he just kept telling me crap like "I'd rather eat shards of glass and shit them out than listen to this song again..." (referring to the music that was currently playing). I'll try George's and if I like it I will gladly give them my business over Lena's.

  3. Perhaps The Hartford Food Guy could explain what an "ethnic restaurant" is. And what an "authentic drink" is.

    The food at Brazil Grill is very good, but it's not "ethnic" to Brazilians. It's just "food."

    As for the "authentic" passion fruit drink at Brazil Grill, what makes it "authentic"? Actually, it is made from a concentrate and it's loaded with sugar. Not bad but VERY sweet.

    Gaspar is as much a fan of Brazil Grill as the next guy but do be careful with the pork loin - sometimes it's overcooked and dried out.

    Don't miss the grilled chicken hearts, lamb and beef ribs as well.

  4. Gaspar, wouldn't the food at Brazil Grill not being ethnic to Brazilians make it ethnic here in America?

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