Churrasquerias restaurants, with their array of barbecued meat and side dishes, are second only to the shimmying Carneval dancers in creating a perception of Brazil as the land of sensual plenty. The Brazilian outfit Fogo de Chao boasts four thriving branches in America, including one in Atlanta. Yet at over $40 per person, a night at the Porto Alegre-based chain and similar restaurants has never been an affordable proposition for many. For those on a budget, festive Sal y Braza is the alternative to pricier churrasco spots. It offers a similar level of quality, service and variety at almost half the price.
The royal treatment: Behind what looks like a typical storefront in the Windy Hill Shopping Center lies a large, comfortable and immaculately clean restaurant kitted out in sunshine-y shades. Rustic wood furniture, including the hutch used as a serving cart for buffet tableware, creates the illusion that one is dining not in Marietta but in the country home of a well-to-do Brazilian friend. A legion of formally dressed waiters stands at the ready to make customers feel like royalty.
Feast first on feijoada: Diners begin their journey into the land of churrasco with a visit to the salad bar. Small but meticulously tended, the bar is complete with a spread of cold salads and the makings of feijoada (pronounced fay-ZHWAH-duh), which was originally a food of the poor. Today, the stew is recognized as Brazil's national dish. Sal y Braza's version justifies feijoada's lofty status, combining velvety tender pork short ribs, corn-studded rice and black beans. A thick layer of flavorful drippings settles at the bottom of the rib pan to be greedily spooned over the beans and rice by guests who, like me, can't get enough of what may be one of the world's best comfort foods.
Obrigado, senhor: Guests initiate the festival of meats by flipping the card on their table to the green side. A platoon of servers arrives with an onslaught of roasted meats on sword-like skewers hot off the rotisserie. The waiters carve the meat tableside, asking diners to assist by clipping hold of the top of the slice of meat with a dainty pair of tongs. Top sirloin is followed by plump sausages, chicken wrapped in bacon, filet mignon, garlic beef, chicken hearts, pork ribs, ham, flank steak and lamb, described by the gracious young man serving it as his "absolute most favorite thing to eat anywhere." Indeed, the lamb, like all the meats, is extraordinarily delicious, bubbling with juice and sizzling with nearly charred, creamy fat.
A great amount of care and skill is invested in all aspects of Sal y Braza, but as a months-old restaurant, it does suffer from a lack of business at times. Some of the meats were a bit dry because there weren't enough guests to keep meats hot and at their perfectly cooked prime. As if the delicious food weren't enough to encourage guests to revisit, checks arrive with coupons reducing the $26.95 dinner price to $15.95 and the $13.95 lunch to $11.95 for each person at the table. Sal y Braza undoubtedly offers diners more class for little cash than many area eateries. Foodies should do themselves a favor and shimmy on over.
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