By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
There are a lot of Brazilians in Fort Lauderdale -- 40,000 to 100,000, depending upon whom you ask -- and they seem to have congregated around Pompano Beach and Lighthouse Point. They've opened churrascarias, serving meltingly tender marinated and spit-roasted meats in the style of the traditional feasts of the South American plains. Brazilians here are buying real estate, operating groceries, and catering to a growing population of their compatriots. And they're introducing new terms to our culinary vocabulary: rodizio, churrasco, muqueca. They're romancing us with song and dance, performing capoeira, playing berimbaus, atabaques, and pandeiros. They're inviting everybody to samba on their tiny dance floors. And they're infusing whatever they touch with the rhythmic spirit of a metaphysical way of being -- a certain sway of the hips, a certain flash of the eye -- they call ginga.
You could say Brazilian Tropicana started it all. At any rate, the local Brazilian community swirls and eddies around this 18-year-old restaurant, sucked into a vortex created by so many gorgeous, spinning bodies. The Tropicana's after-dinner floor show, brainstorm of original owners the Pestana family, draws a full house for its Wednesday-to-Sunday performances; it casts a sunny, sensual net with Carmen Miranda impersonations, sexy lambada duos, the breathtaking fight-game gymnastics of capoeira, and full-dress Carnival numbers. When current proprietor Michael Liberatore took over, he wisely continued a tradition that still draws excellent dancers and singers from New York to Rio hoping for an audition.
410 N. Federal Highway
Pompano Beach, FL 33062
Region: Pompano Beach
I'm going to say flat out that this show is one huge thrill. It's going to knock every worldly wise, ennui-infused, sarcasm-riddled preconception right out of your ballpark. If you can't remember the last time you found your mouth literally gaping in wonder, it's time to reconnect with your inner fool. So plan to snag a table between 7 and 8 p.m., preferably with a birthday party, a huge family, or a cute date who isn't embarrassed to be pulled on stage and compelled to do embarrassing things in front of several hundred strangers. That'll leave you plenty of time to eat before the show starts at 8:30 p.m.
Churrascarias -- all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue joints -- are the rage these days; they started springing up in the late '90s from Queens to Burbank, fueled in equal parts by American cravings for new culinary highs and by a post-Atkins rage for protein. We've got a handful of them in Fort Lauderdale -- Chima, which opened last year; Gaucho Rodizio, started the previous year; and Brazilian Tropicana, the granddaddy of them all. The premise of these places is pretty straightforward: all the meat you can eat. The word churrasco means "barbecue" (in both Spanish and Portuguese), and the meat is served rodizio style. Sirloin, lamb, chicken, sausages, pork, sirloin tip, or exotics (some big-city restaurants serve ostrich, buffalo, or a special delicacy, the hump of the Brahma bull) are rubbed with some combination of rock salt, garlic, and spices and cooked on revolving spits over a wood or charcoal fire. Then servers circulate the dining room with a tray full of these "swords," hot from the kitchen, pulling or slicing off pieces at a signal from diners.
Brazilian Tropicana is slightly down-at-heel compared to the tonier and newer upstarts. Décor and lighting are of the highly functional rather than highly styled variety, as if these simple wooden tables had seen a lot of spills, a lot of tykes playing with steak knives, and many years of mild bleach solution at the end of double shifts. The main dining room is arranged around the tiny stage and dance floor with tables on two tiers, so you'll have a good view of the show from wherever you're sitting. The salad bar is set up in a smaller room next to the bar.
Rodizio, of course, is the house specialty. For $31.95 (all prices include the show) you get a fairly frill-free version that includes as many staggering trips to the salad bar as you care to make, a plate of fried bananas and sides of rice and black beans, and an endlessly rotating series of waiters bent on plying you into a carnivorific stupor. The food tastes just fine with Brazil's national drink, the caipirinha ($6.75), made with lime wedges, sugar, and Brazilian rum, shaken and served over cracked ice (all the cocktails, including a flaming Bota-Fogo with apricot brandy and pineapple juice, are under $8 and made with name-brand liquors). You settle in with a couple of drinks and a salad plate that might include any combination of fresh lettuce and marinated vegetables: tart hearts of palm or artichokes, garbanzo beans tossed with tuna (my favorite), pickled beets, crunchy greens, and corn and red pepper salad. It's all perfectly appetizing, ice cold, replenished often, and just the right light touch for the meaty banquet to follow.