This month marks the anniversary of Brazilian Independence Day. If you got a chance to take part in the Utah Brazilian Festival activities at Thanksgiving Point earlier in the month, you have some idea of the extent to which Brazilian culture in recent years has been exported to the United States. Having spent time in Brazil myself, I’m continually bowled over by Brazilians’ passion for life in the face of dire economic adversity. And, as is the case with immigrants from Mexico and Central America, many South Americans too'including Brazilians'have come to North America in search of better lives and opportunity, or at least a living wage.
For many of us our first introduction to a country like Brazil is through its cuisine. If you’re from the East, you might have initially encountered German culture via rathskellers and restaurants in the German-settled Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan or maybe pockets of German enclaves in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. San Francisco’s Chinatown restaurants or the cuisine of Los Angeles’ large Japanese community likely served as a gateway into those cultures for some folks from the West Coast. My first “taste” of Mexico was from indulging in carnitas and chile verde at the homes and restaurants of Hispanic friends and colleagues while in college in Colorado.
In light of Brazilian Independence Day, I decided to visit Braza Grill Brazilian Steakhouse in Murray to enjoy what I hoped would be a “taste” of the Brazil I so often miss. Brazilians have a word'â€saudadeâ€'which describes a longing for, and nostalgia of, home. I have “saudade” for Brazil even though it’s not my home.
The “saudade” I felt disappeared the instant I walked into Braza Grill, thanks in large part to the music. A guitar-player/singer sat near the entrance to Braza Grill playing sambas, choros and bossa novas in a voice so authentic I thought he had to be a protÃ©gÃ© of Caetano Veloso or Jobim. His singing in Portuguese was flawless. As I learned later from Junior Lopes, Braza Grill’s proprietor, I was listening not to a Brazilian at all but to the amazing Alan Sandomir, marketing professor at the University of Utah. A Brazil enthusiast like myself, and a fine, fine interpreter of Brazilian music, Sandomir made me believe I was in a carioca cafÃ©. I was certain I heard the waves of Ipanema Beach splashing in the background.
It doesn’t hurt Braza Grill’s ambience that every employee (that I encountered anyway) is from Brazil. With an owner like Junior at the helm, engaging servers like Juliana, and crafty swordsmen (more about that later) like Emerson patrolling the dining room, Braza Grill feels like a real Brazilian cafÃ©.
Like Rodizio, Samba Grill and Junior’s former restaurant Made In Brazil, Braza Grill is a churrascaria. I’ve written about churrasco many times in the past, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. Essentially, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet that features an unending array of meats and poultry, sliced and served tableside. Servers like Emerson roam from table to table with long skewers of meat and sharp knives, serving customers churrasco specialties like top sirloin, pork sausage, bacon-wrapped turkey, pork loin, grilled pineapple and so on.
Unlike most churrascarias, Braza Grill allows customers to opt for the complete buffet/churrasco extravaganza ($9.99 lunch; $16.99 dinner) or order Ã la carte, which is a good choice for small appetites or especially vegetarians. The salad buffet, which includes dozens of items'everything from hearts of palm, “feijom” (black beans and rice), fried cod croquettes, beef stroganoff and boiled quail eggs to Brazilian specialties like kibe, coxinha and esfiha'can be enjoyed for a mere $10.99 ($7.99 at lunch).
But to be honest, it’s easiest at Braza Grill just to do the all-you-can-eat full feast; that way you won’t find yourself wishing you could have some of those delicious grilled chicken hearts when Emerson comes around with his skewer. In addition to the regular all-inclusive “Braza Churrasco” offered nightly, Mondays at Braza Grill is a special seafood buffet ($16.99) featuring fresh salmon, roasted shrimp, cod and eight choice cuts of meat. Wednesday is prime rib night with all-you-can-eat prime rib, salads and side dishes for $16.99.
Since word of mouth is getting around about Braza Grill, a loyal following is quickly developing. I recommend visiting the restaurant on a weeknight, since the scene can get a bit crowded and chaotic on Fridays and Saturdays. On the other hand, crowded and chaotic describes what’s best about a lot of urban Brazil, so if that’s your thing, just order an extra guarana soda for added energy and go for it!
Unfortunately, for now you’ll have to get by on sodas, guarana and Brazilian lemonade and fruit drinks since there’s currently no beer or wine served. That’s too bad, since the abundance of meaty protein served up at Braza Grill cries out for a Cabernet or chilly glass of Brazilian beer'preferably a Brahma Chop. But Junior says that a beer and wine license is in the works, so do what the Brazilians are so good at and keep smiling.