Restaurant review: Rodizio Grill

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From the June 28, 2012 edition

While perusing meat-mad Rodizio Grill’s website, you’ll quickly discover this new Arena District “Brazilian steakhouse” ain’t foolin’ around when it comes to dining on — hell, gorging on — animal products. See, Rodizio’s online menu immediately presents its dizzying parade of carnivorous main courses before bothering to list any appetizers or salads.

If, as I suspect, this fleshy menu inspires “Caveman”/Atkins dietary strategizers to admiringly mumble “Bless Rodizio’s heart,” I might teasingly suggest such protein-obsessed diners extend their praise to “And bless Rodizio’s chicken hearts, too” because you can nibble on dark little poultry pumpers also (actually not that bad or scary — if a tad chewy and funky — with a squirt of lime).

The Columbus Rodizio — which is big, bright and open, and kinda resembles an unfancy hotel restaurant — is the eighth iteration of a chain inaugurated in 1995 when Brazilian native Ivan Utrera opened his first Rodizio in Denver. In 2001, Utrera — a Brigham Young University alumnus — moved Rodizio’s corporate headquarters to a Salt Lake City suburb.

Every Brazilian steakhouse (aka churrascaria, aka rodizio — the Rodizio chain actually takes its name from this style of restaurant) operates the same way. Basically, it’s a start-and-stop, graze-till-you-bust affair involving buffet tables and roving dudes loaded with skewers of various seared meats. These “gaucho”-costumed guys slice off samples for each diner in “receiving” mode (designated by a doohickey with “go” green and “stop” red faces) — so no food ordering is really necessary.

In my experience, the main difference between these kinds of restaurants is this: some are very expensive, have impressive buffets and meats and aim for an upscale clientele; others are only pricey and shoot for the masses. The Columbus Rodizio falls into the latter category.

Dinner at Rodizio begins with three special appetizers brought tableside. These were battered and fried bananas (good, but better suited for dessert than a starter), cheese rolls (shrug) and crispy and blocky polenta fries (by far the best choice).

Next up are the cold salad and hot dish bars. Since you want to get your money’s worth of meat (The Full Rodizio dinner is $33), and because I found most of these offerings not to exceed basic buffet food quality, with one exception, I’d skip them. So fill up a plate with the winning collard greens (gently sauteed bacony ribbons) and move on to the meat of the matter.

Though I found Rodizio’s food to be extremely salty, there’s no denying that a steady stream of friendly servers offering different seared proteins can be enjoyable. Among the beef choices, flavorful pot roast was the saltiest, tri-tip was stringy but satisfyingly beefy, and sirloin with Parmesan was the most tender and least salty. Diners experiencing beef fatigue will find other interesting options.

Succulent chicken arriving with wine and rosemary accents (Sobra Coxe) or a semi-sweet and quite spicy wing-type sauce (Frango Agri Doce) plus turkey wrapped in bacon (Peru com Bacon) were surprise hits at my table. Ditto for tender glazed ham and slices of juicy caramelized pineapple. Tilapia cubes might’ve seemed like an odd choice but were fairly nice, too.

My encounters with the lamb are illustrative of a place like this. After enjoying my first mild, tender and juicy taste, I failed to see more of it go by. When I mentioned this to a friendly server, he hustled and wrangled me another bite — only that time it was kinda dry.

Photos by Tim Johnson