Where Y'Eat: A Self-Serve Brazilian Bounty

Aug 2, 2012

Weighing the meats and merits of a new Brazilian churrascaria in Kenner, where all you can eat is really up to you.

The mere mention of Brazilian food usually brings to mind a scene of costumed waiters serving gluttonous portions of meat from sword-like skewers right over your table. That’s rodízio style, and it comes to mind because it happens to be the most heavily marketed South American restaurant format here on our shores.

But another way Brazilians express their national mania for meat — more laid back, and cheaper, but no less indulgent — is the self-serve churrascaria, and one of these has recently taken root along Williams Boulevard, that veritable international food court in Kenner.

Churra’s Brazilian Grill can serve you a dozen different meats in a single meal, just like the rodízio restaurants. But here, you go to source, bellying up to the counter where a grill man works the various wood-handled skewers of a huge, multi-rack rotisserie like it’s some kind of sizzling pipe organ. Between tending these skewers and sharpening his knives, he cuts portions of whatever you want directly onto your plate. Your haul is put on a deli scale and you pay by weight — not your weight, I’m relieved to report, but the weight of your meal.

The classic churrascaria cut to try is called picanha, a hunk of rump steak topped with a knob of fat and bent to the skewer like a dripping rainbow. There are slices from T-bones, chunks of chicken thigh completely turbaned up in bacon, gnarly beef ribs and slices of pork loin. Churra’s makes its own sausage, including herb-flecked links called Toscana, a reference to the Italian sausage they strongly resemble. There are dense, dark chicken hearts that give just the slightest pop when you bite in, and whole pineapples roasted on the spit for a juicy, smoky palate cleanser.

Churra’s was opened by an affable and welcoming Brazilian family led by Ionia and Edelson Martins. Their large, neatly-kept restaurant also doubles as a grocery and Brazilian butcher shop, which is a good resource if you want to try the whole churrascaria thing at your own backyard barbecue.

The grill fires up early at Churra’s. On weekday mornings, customers come through for a quick breakfast of Brazilian cheese bread and meat pies. Some pack up immense take-out cartons for lunch at the job site later in the day. Many of the customers are contractors, and I admit it’s strangely satisfying to think that grilled chicken hearts and Brazilian sausage are making the rounds when it’s lunchtime at construction sites around town.

Around this dining room you’ll hear groups of guys bantering with the staff in Portuguese, and you might spot the occasional business lady tucking into her own sculpted pile of picanha. To wash it all down, you can get mellow, refreshing cashew juice, or cans of Guarana, the shockingly sweet Brazilian soda.

There’s a buffet of salads and sides, many of which contain still more meat, and since Saturday is Brazil’s traditional day for feijoada — a thick, ritualistic stew of black beans and pig parts — that’s the day to find it at Churra’s, too.

If you don’t eat meat there’s really no reason to visit Churra’s, which doesn’t even bother with seafood. Instead, this jovial new Brazilian outpost aims its skewers directly at carnivorous cravings, and hits the bulls eye.