Getting to heart of a good meal

BY GEOFF MCGOVERN

Swords. All around me are razor edged, flesh rendering rapiers. Big swords. Sharp swords. Scary swords. Swords full of….chicken hearts?

I’m at Midwest Grill, the churrasco rodízio Brazilian barbecue buffet in Inman Square. It’s a drizzling Friday night and the place is packed with patrons and enough grilled meat to justify a PETA rally at the front steps. But not even a vegetarian is in sight; only big groups of diners with big smiles and big bellies.

Churrasco (say shoo-ras-ko) is all about grilled meats (the word roughly translates to barbecue). The traditional cuisine dates back to the 1530’s when the Brazilian Gauchos began to raise the first imported cattle in South America. Long sharp swords are used to skewer choice cuts of meat, fire grilled in a churrascaria rotisserie. The results are some succulent specialties and a dining experience that you’ll be raving to your friends about for weeks.

Did I mention the chicken hearts?

Friday night tables are a scarce commodity at Midwest. If, like my party, you are dining with fewer than eight people, reservations are not taken. Don’t be discouraged. Relax at the bar behind the dining room and try the Brazilian Skol ($3.75), a light and crisp pilsner that is a refreshing accompaniment to the heavy buffet. (On the downside, Midwest’s liquor license allows only beer and wine sales, a disappointment when a pitcher of Caipirinha-the national drink made from distilled sugar cane known as cachaça-would be perfect to share with friends.)

After a scanty ten minute wait at the bar we are ushered to our table where Winston, our charming head waiter, welcomes us to the restaurant, asking whether this is our first visit. Two of us are churrasco veterans, but the third is a newbie. Winston, a dead ringer for California’s Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, delights in the opportunity for a first impression, and he explains how the rodízio system works.

The first step takes diners to the hot and cold buffet where a modest salad bar awaits. The offerings change throughout the day, so be sure to scope out the daily specials. Still, space on your plate will be limited and precious as the meal progresses, so don’t fill up on rice and beans (some restraint from carnivorous overindulgence is prudent, though).

Almost immediately after resettling in my seat from a difficultly negotiated trek to the hot and cold buffet, I’m confronted with a skewer of white wine vinegar and bay leaf marinated lamb. “Yes, please,” I say as I reach for the tongs to pinch the slice of lamb carefully carved to order. Tender and flavorful with just the perfect spice, the lamb is one of the top offerings in the barbecue buffet.

No sooner do I cut myself a mouthful than a second waiter appears. And a third. And a fourth. In no time, I have sampled a savory garlic beef (a bit too far on the salty side, but rich in flavor), a perfectly medium rare top sirloin, and an unremarkable but satisfying bacon wrapped breast of chicken.

And, if that were not enough, whole roasted pork tenderloin came next, followed by two types of sausages-a hearty Polish kielbasa (again, too salty) and a delectable and juicy Italian sausage that was roasted to perfection.

And then it happened. The chicken hearts. Ah, yes. I know that organ meats are shunned by the American palette. I’ll admit hesitancy before allowing the morsels on my place and a moment of vacillation before actually going through with the trial. But they were excellent. Try them.

Occasionally, you may find a piece of chicken or pork tenderloin that is over cooked; but this is easily avoided since the waiters are more than willing to carve up their cache of carne according to your desired level of doneness.

For dessert-yes, there’s dessert-the buffet offers fresh fruit and tiny cups of surprisingly delicious chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I wonder, however, how many people actually have the will to make it through dessert.

The dinner barbecue buffet costs a reasonable $22.95 per person, while the luncheon price is $17.95. You are guaranteed to walk away feeling full (too full?) and knowing you received your money’s worth of meat. And I promise that you’ll never look at a salad the same way again.

Midwest Grill. Go with friends. Go with an appetite.

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