Houston loves beef. So does Brazil. Houston loves brunch. Apparently, so does Brazil, or at least Brazilian-owned churrascaria chain Fogo de Chão does. On Sunday, the Houston location kicked off a new weekly Sunday brunch, served from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Ten minutes before opening, the restaurant's lobby was full of families of every shade, mostly celebrating graduations, all waiting to gain entry to the dining room.
The restaurant's manager, Israel Casas, gave me a tour of what's new at brunch. On one table, a server scooped out sangria from a single gigantic glass. By the time I was done with my meal, the glass, optimism be damned, was well more than half empty. Doubtless, made-to-order caipirinhas and Bloody Marys were also well-received. I stuck to Fogo's signature lemonade, sweetened and made slightly creamy with condensed milk, and a can of Brazilian soda Guarana.
As if anyone were asking for more meat, a carving table is stocked with a tender pork shoulder, ready to be dressed in pineapple salsa. Fruit also appears on the "Market Table," with a range of berries, melons and big chunks of papaya accompanied by Greek yogurt cups and cornmeal pound cake called bolo de fubá.
But the best of the brunch offerings waits on the hot bar beside bacon, sausage and a potato hash made with braised beef ribs. Pão de queijo, a cheesy Brazilian cousin to the popover, is one of the most delicious things in the world on its own. An egg bake that utilizes the bread in a similar way to a strata is even better. Gooey Swiss cheese and eggs combine in bits of softened, hollowed-out bread. The holes are also filled by asparagus, broccoli and mildly spicy peppadews to cut through the creamy, fattiness. It's hard not to fill up on it even before the onslaught of meat begins. I reasoned that at least I was eating some vegetables.
But when gauchos began circulating through the room with their meat-filled swords, they meant business. In the first five minutes, I counted eight different meats on my plate, including the signature picanha, crispy-skinned chicken leg, pork rib, leg of lamb and Parmesan-crusted pork. All but the ribs, which are cooked on a rotisserie out front, come from a vast wall of flames in the kitchen. There, the meats are rubbed with rock salt, skewered and placed over burning coals. The blistered, salty exterior leaves a juicy interior that satisfies in the most primal of ways. The lamb chops, especially benefit from that treatment, oozing juice from its crisp, saline coating.
By the time I'd made it through a share of the flesh (I missed the bacon-wrapped food group), I was so meat-drunk I was afraid I might not be able to drive home. But a meatnormous nap got me through the rest of the day.