Flip through the pages of an in-flight magazine and you'll likely see an ad for Fogo de Chão or Texas de Brazil, those swank Brazilian steakhouses, also called churrascarias.
Servers wielding skewered hunks of slow-roasted meats slice and serve them at your table. This all-you-can-eat bonanza comes with a bevy of hot and cold side dishes.
It also comes with a hefty price tag.
You'll get a slice of that Brazilian steakhouse experience at the recently opened and locally owned Galo Brazilian Grill near 168th Street and West Center Road. But while you will find roasted meats cooked on a wood-and-charcoal-fired grill, they're not presented tableside. Unlike those national chains, Galo features a casual setting and cafeteria-style concept. Instead of a set price, you pay $8.99 a pound. And the selection of meats and sides is substantially smaller here.
Before my first visit to Galo, I checked out its website. I liked that the restaurant is family run and independent. I liked that you can choose as little or as much food as you want from a variety of dishes. I liked the weigh-and-pay format and was excited for my first taste of Brazilian food.
I knew Galo would be different from traditional Brazilian steakhouses. It says so right on their website. So the lack of white tablecloths, candlelight and meat-brandishing waiters dressed as gauchos (southern Brazilian cowboys) didn't disappoint me.
It does disappoint some diners, owner Terry Schmidt later told me in an interview.
“You'll either embrace it, or you'll be disappointed because you wanted this big splash,” he said.
Schmidt is a longtime owner of restaurants, including Mexican eateries, yogurt shops and pizzerias. A desire to combine his fast-casual restaurant background with his son-in-law's experience working at a Brazilian steakhouse in Kansas City led them to launch Galo earlier this year. Schmidt's son-in-law, Joao Paulo da Silva, is a native of Brazil.
At Galo (Portuguese for “rooster”), you start by grabbing a square plastic tray, napkin, silverware and dinner plate. A buffet of cold salads and sides in big bowls and serving platters set over ice allows guests to help themselves to a dozen items ranging from traditional Brazilian dishes to classic American fare.
The selection changes daily and includes everything from salada de batata (potato salad), salpicão (Brazilian cole slaw) and garbanzo beans to hearts of palm, chicken salad and sliced mango with strawberries.
Galo's potato salad doesn't include relish or hard-boiled eggs. Lightly dressed with mayonnaise, it's studded with carrots and corn. I liked the textural contrast of the slightly crunchy carrots and tender potatoes. But I thought the dish lacked salt and other seasoning.
Schmidt said many Brazilian dishes aren't heavily seasoned and that Brazilians tend to prefer more mild, European-style cuisine rather than the spicier foods of other South American countries.
Broccoli salad, pasta salads and other American-style sides were included among the selections. I was a little surprised to find tabouli, a dish associated with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. I later learned that it's popular in Brazil due to Middle Eastern immigrants who settled there.
Next stop is the hot bar, featuring about a half-dozen sides. Depending on the day, there might be feijoada (Brazil's national dish made with black beans and pork), rice, Brazilian beef stroganoff, grilled asparagus bundles wrapped in bacon, caramelized bananas and pão de queijo (parmesan cheese bread).
With the exception of the lukewarm beans and rice we encountered on our second visit, the hot dishes and cold dishes on the buffet were at optimum serving temperatures. Vegetarians could easily make a meal from the cold bar.
The meat, though, is the star.
Skewered and fire-roasted until tender and juicy, the meats are carved directly onto your plate. You specify whether you want rare, medium or well-done.Two cuts of sirloin were offered on our visits: picanha and alcatra com queijo. They're essentially the same, but the alcatra doesn't have any fat and it's stuffed with provolone.
My dining partner and I both preferred the picanha over the alcatra. The latter cut wasn't as juicy or flavorful, likely due to its lack of fat. It was hard to detect the provolone. The carver said the cheese dissipated during the cooking process.
We also tried the frango, or chicken. Chicken legs are marinated in beer for 24 hours. The marinade helps tenderize the meat, while the wood from the grill adds a nice, subtle smokiness.
The linguica was my favorite. The mildly spiced and cured pork sausage is about the length of a thumb and as thick as an Italian sausage. Schmidt said the restaurant orders it from a butcher shop in Kansas City, so he wasn't sure what kind of seasonings they use. Like all the meat at Galo, it's skewered and cooked over flames, resulting in a crisp exterior and hot, juicy interior.
The grill is the focal point of Galo. Made in Brazil, it uses both charcoal and wood, measures 8 feet long and accommodates 42 gigantic skewers.
“We're all about the meat and the theater of that fire,” Schmidt said.
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Cozy and inviting, the dining room is decorated in warm tones of rust and gold, accented by sleek gray floors. Schmidt used recycled wood from a 70-year-old barn to reface the walls. Large windows let in lots of natural light.
At the copper-topped bar, you can savor a glass of Cabernet, enjoy a pint of Stella Artois or sip a caipirinha, the classic Brazilian cocktail featuring the sugar cane liquor cachaca.
Service here is friendly and attentive. We were greeted and promptly led to our table. Servers are quick to ask if it's your first visit, explain the process to newcomers and take drink orders. You're given a number to tell the employee at the register station where your plate is weighed. Make as many trips to the buffet as you'd like. When you're done eating, your server brings the bill, which lists pounds and price.
At both visits, our bill ran about $40, including drinks and dessert. The average price for most adult plates is roughly $10-$12. My advice: Start with a small amount, try a little of whatever looks good, then go back if you're still hungry. But leave room for dessert.
Our favorite was a rich, silky-smooth square slab of flan made in-house, as are all the desserts. Also delicious was the coconut rice pudding: a bowl of creamy, comforting, coconutty goodness. Less successful was the passion fruit mousse, which was way too sweet to finish.
With affordable prices, a casual vibe and some interesting dishes not found everywhere, the family-owned Galo is carving out a niche with a new-to-Omaha, Brazilian-style steakhouse that will have plenty of appeal for those with a meat tooth or a sweet tooth.