As the London Summer Olympics come to an end, the attention will shift to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and all things Brazilian, including the cuisine.
While this is great news for the people of Brazil, Charlotte has experienced a gastronomic loss. Many Brazilian expats returned home during the economic downturn here, which in turn impacted the depth and variety of Brazilian foods in Charlotte. At its height in 2007, this city had a Brazilian community of about 5,000, with three grocery stores, several Brazilian shops and a bakery. Most of these were located near the local Brazilian community's epicenter, the intersection of Monroe Road and Highway 51. Not surprisingly, Amor de Brazil, a new Brazilian steakhouse in Matthews, opened not far from that area.
Amor de Brazil is bright, welcoming and warm, with the help of genuinely friendly service and a samba/bossa nova/jazz soundtrack. The room positively oozes a fun spirit: an orgy of food, and on weekends, colorful, cheekily-clad Brazilian dancers complete with feathered carnival headdresses.
While co-owners Almir Abraao (who is from Rio) and Antonio Soto focus on attracting the general population, a large number of Brazilian expats congregate in the restaurant. On one night when we visited, Portuguese was the dominant language. But the wait staff and spiffy gauchos, who parade through the room with large knives and longer skewers, are fluent in English. Many can and do expound on Brazilian cuisine and culture: One gaucho convinced our table to visit his hometown of Curitiba, one of the host cities to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
Of course, presenting something to the table sizzling on a skewer usually ups the ante of any dish, and the meats here are no exception. The tradition of churrasco celebrates the flavors of the meat: No sauces here. Gauchos offer 16 meats, including the tender and flavorful top sirloin cap (or picanha, pronounced pee-con-ya), top sirloin, rib eye, filet mignon, lamb chops, leg of lamb, pork loin, pork chops, chicken drums, and linguiça, a Brazilian pork sausage.
The beauty is that after four bites — the point of taste repetition — you can move on to another flavor profile. The drawback is salt. Brazilians roll meat in rock salt, which seals in the juices and imparts remarkable flavor, but if salt is off-putting, you can request an inner cut from your gaucho.
Equally satisfying is the salad bar of both hot and cold dishes. The best of these were the hearts of palm, asparagus, chicken salad, marinated quail eggs, and fried plantains. With all this food, dessert seems impossible, but a large wedge of Brazilian flan is worth saving room for.
The accessibly priced wine list includes a well-chosen selection from Chili and Argentina, including a section of Malbec, with a few from Brazil and a scattering of international wines. Caipirinhas, Brazil's national cocktail of lime and sugar cane rum, is muddled and shaken tableside.
Amor is more than the sum of its parts. You can have quite a meal — and quite a time — for 30 bucks.
Amor de Brazil
2225 Matthews Township, Sycamore Commons Shopping Center, Matthews, 704-841-1241. Hours: Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.: Friday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. $29.95; $24.95 salad bar only; Children 5 to 11 half price. http://amordebrazilsteakhouse.com, Facebook.