It seemed like New Orleans was on the brink of a Brazilian restaurant boom in 2007 when the number of local churrascarias shot from zero to three. The format was different at each Brazilian-style steakhouse, but they all centered on salty, succulent meat served in huge quantities from sword-like skewers. Alas, each of the carnivore's delights went out of business.
All the while, however, Brazilian Market & Cafe has been trading in more down-to-earth but no less authentic Brazilian fare from its location in a Kenner strip mall. You won't see waiters serving steak from sabers here, but you will find a tiny Brazilian deli serving an impressive array of meat pies, some very novel sandwiches and a Saturday afternoon stew like no other.
The place opened in 2006 when owner Greyze Vieira moved to town on the hunch that he could build a business serving the influx of fellow Brazilians drawn here for recovery work. Today, Brazilian Market seems like a hub for expats. Men in soot-covered overalls and others in neckties eat lunch beside each other at communal tables, while women sweep in to collect take-out orders, addressing the staff in rapid-fire Portuguese. From his busy office in the back, Vieira helps people book airline tickets, handle passport issues and ship care packages home. He leaves the cooking in the capable hands of native Brazilian Suzie Tavares.
Details are scant on the printed menu, but the standard order here is a plate lunch of either grilled steak, chicken or fish, each served with a pile of peppery fries, salad and a second plate of red beans and rice, which taste a lot like the local Monday classic. I learned from the guys eating beside me to douse everything with house-made bird pepper hot sauce and flurries of farofa, or toasted yucca flour. The steak is a thin-cut sirloin, chewy and flavorful, topped with grilled onions and fried egg. It makes a hearty meal for about $7, but you can't leave without trying some savory pastries, too. Fried empanadas taste like Natchitoches meat pies, and one that looks like a muffin is filled with minced chicken, carrots and olives.
Hamburgers and chicken sandwiches start modestly enough on standard picnic buns, but then come the unusual Brazilian toppings. Go the whole hog with the tudo option and you'll find your burger somewhere beneath an avalanche of cheese, bacon, ham, fried egg, grilled hot dogs, corn, green peas and fried potato sticks. I found this strangely delicious, though I did soon discard the hot dogs.
In the morning, people get ham and mozzarella sandwiches or a bag of hot pao de queijo, which are baked cheese puffs with the elastic texture of yucca flour. Come Saturday, everyone orders the daily special — feijoada, a deeply traditional stew mixing black beans and a motley of pig parts, like a tropical cassoulet. It's a ritualistic dish, with mandatory sides of rice, peeled orange, more farofa and shredded collard greens cooked with garlic. Watching everyone in the room plow through this homey stew one afternoon, it seemed clear that visiting Brazilian Market could be something of a ritual, too.