Grilled meat is a fine meal. An endless supply is a better deal. When 16 varieties are presented by Guachos you know you are in Brazil. So when the Gauchos at Braza Leña set the scene for an all-you-can-eat protein orgy, diners know they’re setting themselves up for an unforgettable feast.
The Weekly realized we couldn’t find diners more fitting to bring to the carnivorous playground than my boys from Elmore, Ohio. Home of Tank’s Meats, a butcher shop nestled by the shores of Lake Erie, where the pigs and cows are raised, and butchered on site. Customers can order their cuts of meat any way they please. These Midwest boys know their meat like Jim Scholl knows his pavement projects and city bus route schedule. Turns out Braza Leña serves up only the most succulent cuts with a full dose of hospitality.
“Wow, this place is cool,” Shawn Geldine, an AT&T employee from Sandusky County, Ohio takes in the interior. His tourist cover is blown as he plunks his backpack onto the floor.
The dining room is expansive and alluring with leather chairs and dark tables. The décor captures the art of grilling.
“This restaurant, this concept is in Brazil what McDonald’s is in America,” Braza Leña owner Ari Sampaio. “Only in Brazil, they like lunchtime better. Lunchtime is busier. Here it’s dinner time.”
A glance around the grandiose eatery unveils there won’t be any dishes ordered or served resembling a “McAnything.”
“I make very high, quality food,” Sampaio promises.
The Keys are a seafood lovers dream. Snapper, Grouper, Lobster, Stone Crab, dolphin, and shrimp are served at oceanside at restaurants festively decorated with thatch tiki huts, crab traps, and vintage fishing poles.
“I wanted to do something different. Bring quality food to the islands, and don’t give everyone exactly what they expect,” Sampaio convinces us. “American company representatives who stay in Brazil were always saying they liked the concept and ‘we don’t have it here (America). You need to bring it over.’ So we did.”
The first Braza Leña opened in Islamorada and this past year the logo went up off Duval and Caroline Streets beckoning locals and tourists. This evening, besides Geldine, also at our table is Brent “Vern” Drossel, a man who has fine-tuned the crafts of laying floors, snowmobiling, and golf.
“I eat chicken, pork, or steak every night,” he claims. “At least once a week I have steak, filet or sirloin.”
Brent taste-buds favor tender cuts of meat cooked with “just the right spices.” He vacations to the Keys twice a year and usually opts for seafood.
“But a restaurant like this, there aren’t too many like it where you’re going to eat 16 different kinds of meat,” Brent is in awe.
“We even have chicken heart, which isn’t on the menu,” offers Ari. “You have to know exactly how to prepare it, and shrimp.”
A card is given to each diner, one side is red, and the other is green. After you polish off your Parmesan Pork Loin and Roasted Leg of Lamb, you flip the card to green and it motions the Gauchos to bring on the Brazilian Sausage and Filet Mignon.
“It’s like a carnivore’s dream. Different types of meat cooked over an open fire,” Brent is impressed. “The filet is nice, and juicy. It’s not like an 8 oz filet where it’s red. They cut them small and put them on skewers.”
At Braza Leña the meats are prepared daily and the juices are kept inside the filet by turning the skewers very carefully.
“The temperature has to be right,” Sampaio says with notable passion, “otherwise you loose the flavor and the meat will be tough.”
“No. this is good,” Shawn testifies. His blond locks glisten and he digs in to another serving.
Sampaio advises the men to save room for dessert, fried bananas, Key Lime pie, and chocolate cake. Only, we forgot to mention, at this restaurant you have to save room for the meat, poultry, shrimp, and lamb. The salad bar features sushi, salmon, carpaccio, a two-foot parmesan wheel, marinated artichoke hearts, polenta, conch ceviche, clams, prosciutto and three different kinds of salami.
Brent shares his tactics, “I knew what was coming, so I had to leave room. I didn’t turn down a single Gaucho. But, seriously, I could have eaten just the salad bar there’s so much food up there. This is awesome. So many different kinds of meat, you can have as much as you want.”
“We concentrate on presentation, flavor, taste, and we never cut quality,” reinforces Sampaio. “Now, who has room for dessert?”
On the skewer and on the menu: • Brazilian Sausage • Brazilian Top Sirloin • Lamb Chops • Garlic Sirloin • Chicken Drumsticks • Filet Mignon wrapped in Bacon • Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon • Pork Loin • Filet Mignon • Parmesan Pork Loin • Sirloin • Beef Ribs • Shrimp • Pork Ribs • Roasted Leg of Lamb