Brazil is Cale country when it comes to food. Even as an American I was occasionally stunned at the size of the portions, and with the dollar no stronger than the drinks at a Mormon wedding, it’s nice to travel somewhere with fairly cheap food. Even in the third world, however, the prices were significantly higher than promised in 2005 by The Lonely Planet. As of this second, cheap food, say bought on a street corner is still really fucking cheap. Meat Pastries for me and Marina and three beers ran me less than $5.00. A decent pub or restaurant, and you’re probably paying about 70% fo what you would in the US. At the top end, 90%. If you’re coming from Europe, prepare to step into the shoes of Henry VIII.
The overarching themes are quality food and service so good that you might initially feel a bit uncomfortable about being doted on. I’ve never really understood the appeal of having someone pour your diet coke for you. Because pouring a Diet Coke is pretty easy. But this is a weird, symbolic and even more pointless act in Brazil. Even at, say, a pub your server will bring you your drink, open it, and pour like two ounces into your glass, then leave you the bottle so you can pour the rest. “Thanks, I guess. Do you mind taking my shoes 1/8th of the way off for me?” If there’s a smoker at your table, the wait staff will change the ashtray the second the second butt is smothered. Yet, although most Brazilians are smokers, you usually have to request an ashtray for your table. The apparent obsequiousness of the service sometimes made me feel like an imperialist who should be sweating through a white fedora. It also makes me think of the part in Fight Club where the waiter tells Tyler Durden not to order the cream of mushroom soup. But these feelings were abated by the fact that the servers where as warm and friendly as other Brazilians. Most waiters in Brazil genuinely take pride in making their customers happy, even though a 10% gratuity is already included in the price of a meal. Some carry special devices for opening pop top cans and open them with such alacrity and speed that I think they view themselves as technicians. If it was a house nigger routine, it was damned convincing. And this was true everywhere. Ask the guy stocking the shelves at a grocery store where to find the vodka and there’s a good chance that he will genuinely seem to light up, make some kind of joke and happily point the way. I’m told that someone was robbed by a young boy with a knife who cheerfully said, “hello ma’am. May I please have all your money?
Restaurants are probably the place where the racial chain of command in Brazil is most evident. Probably, the guy who parks your car or “watches” it for you is very dark. Probably, the guy who serves the food is somewhere in the mestizo range and probably the people eating the food are between light meztiso and blonde haired and blue eyed. Although Sao Paulo is as diverse as anywhere–plenty of Asians, blacks, Italians, Jews, und other parasites on the ubbers—there is much less of a tradition of keeping the food in the family. A boq mon can open a Chinese restaurant and a goy can open a deli.
If you park in an area of busy restaurants, you either have to be gauged by valets or, if you can find a street spot, pay someone to “watch” your car. If you live in a big, American city, you might have had a kid come up to you after you park and say, “hey, do you want me to watch your car for you?” Translation:” if you give me a couple of bucks, I won’t key or steal your car. Otherwise, I can’t make any promises.” In Sao Paulo this is an actual profession. Self appointed guardians roam the parking lots and sidewalks in meshed, orange vests. They look like grubby crossing guards. It’s extortion, but it is tolerated because, apparently, they do a pretty reasonable job of making sure that nobody else steals or damages your car. I suppose that some of them are honest and view themselves as members of the Citizen’s Auxiliary Police. If they can nail down some good turf, they don’t make a bad living. It was reported that one car watcher pulled in $R5,000 per month. Someone hired out of journalism school usually makes about $R1,300 per month. On one occasion, I ran into a guy who promised the owners of illegally parked cars to run in and warn them if the traffic police came around, in exchange for a dollar or so. I thought this to be a pretty nice service, although I couldn’t really understand how there would be time for him to run in and warn you, then for you to run out and move your car once the swine had already arrived.
Marina and I are two actual human beings, but at Consulado Mineiro we were served a delicious meal that would even put down Ruthless’ remorseless eating machine. Feijoada is very similar to creole rice and beans. There’s kind of a stew of beans, pork sausage, hamhawks and seasoning. They brought us roughly nine gallons of this, served family style, and it was very tasty. We also got a plate of rice and another of kale, which is prepared similarly to collared greens. Then there was a crumbly mixture of eggs, flour and seasoning called farofa which you spoon on top of the already flavorful rice and beans. Finally, in case this all sounds too healthy for you, you get pork rinds and in case it doesn’t sound healthy enough you get… orange slices? It sounds odd, but the orange is a perfect touch. It’s nice to have something light, sweet and refreshing to put in your mouth as you take a break and allow your stomach to expand. Naturally I demanded to be taken back to the restaurant as soon as possible. This time we got an equal portion of pork rinds, fried bananas and a sublimely evil rice based dish. Basically, imagine Paella that was prepared by someone to whom you had just willed a vast fortune. Rice, pork that is similar to Mexican carnitas, eggs, cheese and pinto beans. I consumed roughly seven of the eleven pounds of food that was served.. I considered this to be an act of tremendous restraint.
Just about every kind of restaurant you can imagine exists in Sao Paulo. So while there are Brazilian style steak houses, there are also American style steakhouses. Dinho’s has a free and good salad bar. There were a few dressings I’ve never seen before, including one olive oil based dressing, with freshly chopped onion and other good tasting stuff. There were french style pickles, palmito (made from the trunk of palm trees), some fair cheeses, eggplant dishes and even salad. I was brought a tasty variety of breads, and when I ordered a beer I got an iced bucket with two 600 ml bottles. The Brazilian twist on all of this is eight dipping sauces for the bread, which I also used for the steak. One is butter, one is a kind of cheese, one is an olive paste, one is olive oil with onions, one is kind of a tomato garlic paste and the last is a sweet flavored, oily, sauce that I wanted to do shots of.
I got a steak too. I was starving and ordered the T-bone, which was just beautiful . To be frank, the outside portions of the steak were nearly as good as I’ve ever tasted. But working toward the interior, required a significant masticatory work out, which means if I could have figured out how to have I mastadontory workout, I would have had the trifecta for the day. So as I got toward the difficult, rare meat in the middle, the sauces came in quite handy. I don’t mean to be to harsh, as it requires a divine feat of grilling to get a thick, thick toilet seat sized T-Bone to be consistently rocking. But this place costs as much as a pretty decent steakhouse back in the US, so I also think it’s fair to be demanding. Incidentally, this is a consistent trend in Brazilian dining. You can get wonderful, mid-level food for significantly less than you’d pay in the US. But the top end stuff is no real bargain for Americans. There are places in Sao Paulo where you can drop $100 a head if you drink decent wine. I ordered what I mistook on the menu for mashed potatoes with my steak. Lucky error, as I was served a plate of puffed, fried potatoes. The best way I can describe them, other than as delightful stepping stones to an early grave, is as a cross between steak fries and Indian poori.
If you get a little homesick, and are from any country other than Uzbekistan or Fiji, you should be able to find something comforting at O’Malley’s international pub. Chili cheese fries, Irish Stew, Asian beer and even some stuff with chutney in it. Beer snobs will find an oasis. 99.9% of Brazilian beer ranges in flavor from Michelob, all the way up to Miller High Life. The idea that a beer might taste like something other than the bathwater of somebody who’s been sprayed by a skunk seems completely alien to Brazilians, although in their defense, I never encountered anything on par with Milwakee’s Be(a)st. O’Malley’s is no rival for Jonny’s office, Lucky Baldwins in Passadena, where you can order a barley wine that some guy made in his Amsterdam basement in 2003, but you can get things like Old Speckled Hen on tap. My hostess here, Marina condemned each beer I bought with a sneer and aone word review as she guzzled Brazilian Michalobs. Guiness (I was desperate for a stout)–“toasty.” Old Speckled Hen on tap–“toasty.” Greene Knight IPA–“raisins.”
Beer makes you go wee!
Admittedly, some of the items on the menu are kind of bastardized. I had pastrami–in a wrap. That’s kind of like doing rails off of William Bennett’s ass. But it came with two kinds of mustard on the side and some unidentified and delicious sauce in the wrap, along with lettuce and tomatoes. Best wrap I ever ate. Also. perhaps the best french fries I tasted in Brazil were at O’Malley’s. Should you be fortunate enough to be in Brazil during World Cup, this is the place to head for non-Brazil games. I went there to catch the disappointment that was the Holland-Argentina match and was greeted with a sea of orange and the only man I saw all trip who was brave enough to wear an Argentina jersey in Brazil.. I’m told that many of these fans are Brazilians of Dutch descent, while others are travelers and lucky ex–pats. The bar is decorated with an array of international soccer decor. No Shaq jerseys or Yankees caps though.. The bartenders even broke out disingenuous Holland jerseys to go with the plastic orange flags that were hung about the bar. It wasn’t a complete sham, of course, as every Brazilian’s second favorite team is whoever is playing Argentina. And there was no doubt about ultimate loyalties, as the Dutch were forced to congregate under strings of Brazilian flags and green and gold balloons, trapped on the ceiling. The menus are in English with cheeseball descriptions of the food (“Irish Stew–Hey, it is an Irish pub after all ”), the beer tastes like beer and costs more than a pack of gum.
Huzzah for the shopkeep!
This was a fitting somewhat more home-like place than home away from home. Second place goes to Finnegan’s Pub. I actually preferred the decor at Finnegan’s and the special burger with Roquefort and bacon was artery cloggin’ good. I balanced the heavy burger out with some potato skins that included all of the usual stuff, and catupiry cheese, which seems to function primarily as a way of taking the most unhealthy American dishes and making them more so. I’m pretty sure that catupiry has nicotine in it. The beer selection was not as good however, and most importantly the game did not draw a huge crowd of brightly dressed fanatics. In fairness, I watched a Brazil game there, because I was late and everywhere else was jammed. I think the locals prefer not to watch their team on neutral turf.
So, all Americans are familiar with the great New York versus Chicago pizza debate. It really comes down to a case of tangerines and oranges. Do you prefer the deep dish pastry or the abundance of greasy goodness? Paulistas will throw their hat into the ring and in a much more direct fashion. Their pizza is basically New York style, and they claim that it is the best in the world, with plenty of justification. I was at Oficina das Pizzas making a clown of myself by rabidly inhaling pizza with the densest and most generous portions of good cheese and toppings I had ever had. In fact, the quantity of the garlic on our garlic and tomato pizza would continue to punish my esophagus for literally two days afterwards as I could barely move without releasing Godzillaesque belches. I was talking with my new friends, Michael and Sharon and noting that there really is kind of an international Jew. Maybe they teach it in Hebrew school, but I really dig the sarcastic politeness. Michael was eligible for Polish citizenship, but refused to take it because, when not struggling to change light bulbs, many of the Poles had cooperated in the Holocaust. “And you want me to be a part of that? Sorry, but no thank you ”
The conversation turned from genocide to pizza bragging rights and it was mentioned that, while everyone liked this place, there was better pizza to be had in Sao Paulo. I was skeptical, but it’s true. I’ve been to New York three times, and consumed acres of pizza, I’m sorry, but nothing there can beat Braz. The same generous toppings as Oficina das Pizzas, but with this light, vaguely sweet crust that would not allow me to stop eating it. My pizza was topped with half boar sausage, and half egg and bacon At no other establishment did I do a better job of defending the American reputation for gluttony. When I saw the order of another patron arrive I nearly ordered another pizza. They had pizza with regular mozzarella, topped with thick slices buffalo mozzarella, topped with eggplant, topped with olive oil. The olive oil is the norm though. A garlic infused bottle sits at every table, so that you can drizzle it on top of your pizza. I suggest an emergency meeting of The Council of Rays to figure out how to protect New York’s reputation. Because, as of now, they’re getting their asses kicked.
I also hit Primo Basilico which has some sort of incestuous ownership thing with Braz. After a minute or two of struggle for a specific explanation I lied and said that I understood. I think that by the time I got to Primo Basilico I was a bit jaded with respect to fantastic pizza, because when I think back I remember eating until my stomach hurt and loving every bite, but my overall attitude remains, “it’s not as good as Braz.” If you do go, I recommend the calzone with calipary cheese. Fun fact, Brazilians believe that calzone is a kind of pizza, like say deep dish, rather than a whole separate food, which made me feel like Ash at the beginning of Army of Darkness.
I say with no trace of hyperbole that I’ve just shortened my life by some measurable length of time. Say hello to the “simple” beirute served Toninho Freitas. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever encountered to an actual “Good Morning Burger.” Instead of a bun, a beirute is wrapped in pita bread. It comes with lettuce and tomato. Sounds reasonably healthy until you add bacon, ham, mayonaise and a fried egg all attop what I would estimate to be a 3/4 pound burger patty. The entire thing is about the size of a hardcover of Moby Dick.. I was not Matt enough to slay this beast in one sitting, especially after a plate of merely decent fries. I ate half. About an hour and a half later I started feinding for the other half and devoured it in a moving car. Perhaps the best thing about Toninho Freitas is that it is conveniently located across the street from, and maybe subsidized by, a huge cardiologists’ office. The next block over is a cemetery. The next block over from that is a cemetery. In economics they call this agglomeration.
Coffee shops are not really my thing, but Dulca on Para and Itacolomi is a very nice place to kill some time. It’s a pretty shop in a nice neighborhood. Marina and I met up here with Sharon, who was on her way to New York and Chicago. I advised her to tell everyone in those cities that Sao Paulo has the best pizza in the world. Brazilian coffee is strong. Clearly the weakness of our coffee is one of America’s objective flaws, slightly bellow the failure of our democracy. In Brazil, you get a darker and more flavorful brew, similar to what you would find in Europe, although not as good. I had an espresso, which was fine, but the real attraction at Dulca is the pastries and candies. I sampled a napoleon, a kind of lemon tart, a “dream” which is a very glorified creme filled doughnut, a chocolate dipped cake and broke my cherry for passion fruit mouse. I would recommend the dream and the napoleon most strongly. Overall, no complaints, except that I’ve finally come to the point on my trip where I can no longer comfortably button my pants. Marina and I both had cokes to boot, and I bought a bag of Chocolate covered honey bread (I have no idea) as a gift. We escaped with a tab of around $15.