A FOODIE TRIP TO BRAZIL— NO PASSPORT NEEDED
Enjoy culture and cuisine at Rodizio Grill
Roving gauchos (Brazilian cowboys) wielding large knives and even larger skewers of meat are one of the many highlights of Rodizio Grill at Coconut Point Mall in Estero. Billed as America’s first Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria, the restaurant opened locally and to much anticipation in April. With room for nearly 300, including waterside seating, dining here still has a cozy, friendly feel whether it’s date night or a big celebration—Rodizio does celebrations well.
When founder Ivan Utrera worked for PepsiCo in Latin America, each time company executives would meet him in Brazil he would take them to a churrasco-style restaurant. He remembers that they always asked, “How come we don’t have anything like this in the States?” That stayed in Utrera’s mind.
He worked on a business plan, got investors from Brazil and took a leap of faith. “I heard from a lot of people, ‘You’re gonna fail, you can’t make money on that concept,’ ” he says.
But it has been 20 years; he has opened restaurants across the country and is closing in on the $50 million mark.
If you’ve never been to a Brazilian steakhouse, it’s an experience you must put on your foodie bucket list, and Rodizio is the spot. Some bigger chains offer this style of dining, but they are not Brazilian owned and don’t have the same soul.
Many of the recipes came from Utrera’s mother, who flew from Brazil to Utah to help get the first Rodizio off the ground. “She was pulling her hair out, saying they will never learn,” Utrera recalls with a laugh.
But they did learn. The restaurant doesn’t have a menu. It offers just two price options: $24.99 for the salad bar, $10 more for unlimited meat.
The signature salad bar is massive, featuring some 40 gourmet salads, meats, cheeses, marinated vegetables and the like, many of which change daily. The neighboring hot bar has favorites like Brazilian black beans, rice, yucca, pasta and collard greens.
Executive chef Duda Goulart says, “I try to keep the recipes very traditional. Some are the owner’s family recipes, some are my mom’s and my grandma’s.”
The salad and hot bars are perfect for vegetarians who cavort with carnivores. But meat is the main course and you can eat as much of it as your heart desires and stomach can handle. Here’s how it works. Gauchos (servers) parade through the dining room with skewers of meat and sharpened knives. When ready to join the party, you signal
by turning a wooden block on your table to green. When you are finished or need a break, you flip it to red. When you are ready to throw in the towel, you put the block in a neutral position. Those are the only rules. Now you are encouraged to have fun and try new things.
Not only is the beef butchered in-house, the staff is trained in the proper way to skewer and cut the meat to enhance its flavors,” Goulart says. He calls it “the total package.”
The meat is cooked so that no matter what temperature you like yours, the gaucho will be able to slice the perfect piece of tri-tip, tenderloin, top sirloin or beef flap, to name a few. Also skewered are pork, fish and fowl, along with a wildly popular marinated pineapple, perfect with the salty ham.
Goulart is from the south of Brazil, where, he says, “I’ve
done this [churrasco] all my life. As I was a kid, I was doing the barbeque on the weekends when the family was together.”
He uses only rock salt for seasoning, explaining, “We believe in bringing to our guests the different flavors of the muscles, the protein. The cuts of meat, they all have a unique taste.”
The sheer nature of this restaurant puts it on the radar for glutenfree diners. It’s about 95 percent gluten free, according to Goulart, who has even perfected a mouthwatering gluten-free cheese bread.
The struggle is real, but you must save room for the homemade desserts: flan pastries, crème brûlée and cheesecake made with guava paste.
A brunch buffet is offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The bar serves mimosas and bloody Marys. For a special treat, try the sangria: orange, lime and lemon topped with guaraná (Brazilian soda), melon liqueur, triple sec, brandy and red or white wine. It’s another family recipe.
Other drinks include a sinfully creamy limeade, Brazilian sodas and the famous caipirinha, the country’s signature cocktail made with lime, sugar and cachaça (a Brazilian liquor distilled from sugar cane). You’ll even find a selection of Brazilian wines. Goulart says his country is currently producing some of the best tannat in the world.
The word alegria is used here a lot, and although it’s difficult to translate, Goulart gives it a try: “It’s happiness but more of a warm Christmas feeling, family, joy, fulfillment … put it all in a blender.”
That’s what Utrera was going for when he created the Rodizio dining experience, and we say mission accomplished.
The meat is cooked so that no matter what temperature you like yours, the gaucho will be able to slice the perfect piece of tri-tip, tenderloin, top sirloin or beef flap, to name a few.
The authentic churrasco- style restaurant is a first in Southwest Florida. Gauchos ( below) enhance the table experience.
Rodizio Grill’s Rosana Tormena Utrera and founder Ivan Utrera ( left) still use home recipes provided by Ivan Utrera’s mother when the concept first opened in Utah. The national firm continues its fine- dining tradition in Estero with executive chef Duda Goulart ( below left), service manager Renata Zocante and general manager Takeo Yamashita.