Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 21, 2024

As we prepared to return to Hopkins for intersession this January, we also prepared ourselves for a month in which we could take advantage of all that Baltimore's restaurants have to offer. After exploring the Tuesdays with Gertie dinner special at Gertrude's and Restaurant week at Pazo, we decided it was only appropriate to end with a feast at Fogo de Chao.

We had been told about Fogo by friends, many of whom are diehard fans with respectable palates. Fogo de Chao is as much about the experience as it is about the meal. For those unfamiliar with this buffet-style Brazilian steakhouse, the meal takes on a somewhat interactive quality. As soon as you arrive, you will be shown to your table only to get up a moment later for a trip to the salad bar, which is full of salad fixings like vegetables, cheeses and cold cuts. Your waiter will alert you to the purpose of your reversible coaster, of which the green side expresses "GO" and that you are ready for your meat course.

In no time, waiters in different costume, dressed in traditional Brazilian garb (most memorable were their ballooning black pants and boots), will come whooshing around your table each parading a different type of meat on a skewer. It is your job to help serve yourself: they slice masterfully and request that you use the tongs you've conveniently been given to place the meat on your plate. A meal at Fogo's Baltimore location comes to just under $50 for the generous all-you-can-eat deal. Of course, at the end of your meal you will be tempted, and very possibly persuaded, to add onto this bill after seeing their enticing selection of desserts.

Needless to say, navigating this type of all-you-can-eat special takes a certain amount of planning, preparation and strategy. Being experienced eaters ourselves, we've developed some essential pointers on how to conquer the buffet.

First, it is imperative that you be prepared for a meal of big eating by wearing the appropriate outfit. The best approach, we've found, is that nothing be too tight around your middle. Be able to unbutton your pants or at best loosen your belt. Some might suggest fasting during the day leading up to a meal at Fogo — this is not a bad idea because the food is heavy and filling, and the price is not worthwhile unless you truly eat your fill.

Second, you must dine at Fogo with a friend in front of whom you can eat (read: gorge yourself). Moreover, this is not the place for vegetarians unless you only plan to eat at the salad bar, which comes at a lower price.

Armed and ready to eat in our flowing shirts and stretchy pants, we put our napkins down and approached the buffet table. Before tackling the table, we decided to circle it a few times to become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. Because the buffet table offers such a huge variety of inviting cold appetizers, we thought it would be best to sample a little of each and then go back for second helpings of our favorites. The wheel of 24 month aged Parmesan caught our eyes (and our stomachs) first. Accompanying that on our plates was Manchego cheese, prosciutto, Brazilian hearts of palm, artichoke bottoms, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, smoked salmon, Italian salami, jumbo asparagus, tabbouleh and shitake mushrooms.

Upon sitting back down, we were beyond ready to dig in to the first course of our meal at this food Mecca. These were all fairly basic and simple appetizers that did not require very much creativity to prepare. Regardless, there were some highlights that should most definitely be collected when circling the table. The artichoke bottoms had a selection of tasty dressings to choose from. We tried both the green dill herb and the white ranch dressing, both of which complemented the artichoke extremely well. The hearts of palm, sun-dried tomatoes and shitake mushrooms were also packed with great flavor and left our palettes eagerly awaiting the flavors of the Brazilian meat.

Although we were contemplating going back up for seconds, our waiters made the decision for us when they picked up our plates and placed the three complimentary sides between us. Caramelized bananas, fried polenta, mashed potatoes and pão de queijo came to the table with fresh plates. The caramelized banana and pão de queijo, or warm cheese bread, were by far our favorites. Both had great texture and flavor that appropriately followed the previously mentioned highlights of the salad bar.

Ready to begin our real charruscaria chowing, we flipped our famous table cards to the "Green Go" side and waited for our waiters to come with the meat. We watched the slabs slowly disappear and then reappear from the kitchen every few minutes. Once one waiter with a lamb t-bone glanced at our green cards, all the other waiters in the restaurant took notice and bombarded us with Brazilian meats. Still recovering from the salad bar, we were a bit overwhelmed by the slicing and tong grabbing going on around us. Once we mutually agreed to flip back over to red, we looked at our plates, prepared our mouths and commenced our consumption.

Our favorite meats were the Filet Mignon, Frango (chicken), Lombo (Parmesan Crusted Pork Loin) and Linguica (Sausage). The filet was tender and very naturally flavorful. The chicken legs were extremely flavorful in a different way: they were very smoky and perfectly cooked so that they were not dried out and the skin was enjoyable to eat. We tried two different skewers of the pork loin.

The first time we only liked it because it was covered in cheese; the meat wasn't anything to sing about. However, after our meal was nearly over, we noticed a waiter carrying around another skewer of the pork; this one was steaming and had obviously just come from the kitchen. We immediately turned our coasters back to green and were pleasantly surprised by the tenderness of the pork and realized how successful the Parmesan was as a compliment to the meat.

When choosing the meat which passes by you, we sincerely advise you to take time examining the skewer before the waiter starts slicing. Because the waiters constantly circulate the meat, it was sometimes cold or dried out by the time it reached our plates. You will immediately be able to tell if the piece of meat in front of you looks appetizing or not, so choose wisely. The sausage had a similar smoky flavor to the chicken and was also a solid choice. The remaining meats, however, we found were salty and overcooked or flavorless, leathery and difficult to chew. After eating all of the meats we realized why we enjoyed the banana and pão de quiero so much — they were the only things on the table that had minimal saltiness and a variety in texture.

When you dine at Fogo de Chao be sure to avoid the mistake we made. DO NOT go for the salad bar first and then move onto the meat portion of the meal. Instead, try to eat the both simultaneously. It will give you a good balance of flavor and allow the separate meats to stand alone. In addition, the key to this meal is pacing yourself. Don't get excited by one meat and summon the waiter over for seconds, thirds and fourths. Like the salad bar, we think its best to experience small portions of all the meat during your first visit to Fogo and then deciding which your favorites are and asking the waiters for seconds.

Because we saved this splurge for the special occasion of one of our birthdays, they surprised us at the end of our meal with a complimentary Molten Chocolate Cake complete with a candle and a sloppily written "HAPPY BIRTHDAY." Although we had absolutely zero room in our stomachs (we had reached maximum eating capacity), there is ALWAYS room for chocolate cake. We dug in with eager spoons, but could not believe that this decadent oozing cake was the identical tasting twin of Warm Delights (the microwavable brownie treat you can find for two dollars at any grocery store). Unable to eat much more than one bite, we left with our wallets thinner and our stomachs larger, exiting to the chuckling of our waiter as we discussed our need for a juice cleanse.

The ambiance, in our opinions, left something to be desired. The walls were decorated with traditional Brazilian art and imagery, depictions that resembled those you might find on the walls of a children's museum exhibit. The music playing softly in the background left one cringing at the blaring saxophone, which sounded far too much like what you might hear on Saturday Night Live. Part of why the restaurant's atmosphere may have felt so cold could be due to the fact that this restaurant is a chain. Located on the block adjacent to PF Chang's, Fogo de Chao offers a dining experience that is brimming with character but an environment that utterly lacks it.

All in all, a meal at Fogo de Chao is not for everyone. If you are a diehard carnivore who lives to consume meat, then Fogo is the right dining experience for you. For diners like us who enjoy smaller portions, balanced dishes, delicate flavors and who like to savor each bite, Fogo is not the place to go. We felt rushed through our meal, unsatisfied by the lack of food groups in the second half, and underwhelmed by the unvaried flavor of the meats. Ultimately it was the unexpected guest that joined us mid-meal that sealed the deal of our experience at Fogo de Chao: the fly seemed to enjoy the meal slightly more than we did.

 


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