The mention of Brazilian food usually brings to mind waiters in gaucho costumes serving gluttonous portions of meat from sword-like skewers at your table. That's rodizio style, the most heavily marketed South American restaurant format on our shores.
But another way Brazilians express their national mania for meat — more laid back and cheaper but no less indulgent — is the self-serve churrascaria, and one of these has recently taken root along Williams Boulevard, that veritable international food court in Kenner.
Churra's Brazilian Grill can serve diners a dozen different meats in a single meal, just like the rodizio restaurants. But here, guests go to the source, bellying up to the counter where a grill man works the various wood-handled skewers of a multi-rack rotisserie like it's some kind of sizzling pipe organ. Between tending these skewers and sharpening his knives, he cuts portions directly onto diners' plate. The haul is put on a deli scale and billed by weight — $8.90 per pound in this case. The fire is charcoal, the seasoning is sea salt and the resulting feast is delicious.
The classic churrascaria cut to try is called picanha, a hunk of sirloin topped with a knob of fat bent to the skewer like a dripping rainbow. There are slices from T-bones, chunks of chicken thigh completely wrapped in bacon, gnarly beef ribs and slices of pork loin. Churra's makes its own sausage, including thin, slightly sweet strands and plumper, herb-flecked links called Toscana, a reference to the Italian sausages they resemble. There are dense, dark chicken hearts that give just the slightest pop when you bite in. Whole pineapples roasted on the spit make a sweet, smoky palate cleanser.
The per-pound price includes a buffet, which has perfunctory salad fixings and an array of sides, many of which contain still more meat. Saturday is Brazil's traditional day for feijoada, a thick stew of black beans and pig parts, so that's when it is available on the buffet.
Churra's was opened this spring by an affable and welcoming Brazilian family led by Ionia and Edelson Martins. Their large, neatly kept restaurant also doubles as a grocery and Brazilian butcher shop.
Service starts early at Churra's. On weekday mornings, customers come through for quick breakfasts of Brazilian cheese bread and savory pies, and some pack large take-out cartons of meat for lunch later in the day. Around the dining room you'll hear contractors bantering with the staff in Portuguese between visits to the grill and you might spot the occasional businesswoman tucking into her own sculpted pile of picanha. There is mellow, refreshing cashew juice by the soda fountains, but if you want anything stronger, Churra's currently is BYOB.
If you don't eat meat there's really no reason to visit Churra's, which doesn't serve seafood. Instead this jovial new Brazilian outpost aims its skewers at carnivores, and hits the bull's-eye.