Fogo de Chão: Redefining Steakhouse Culture

International restaurant chain Fogo de Chão recently opened in Carle Place.

Traditional steakhouse culture is one that is a carnivore’s delight, where the clientele is extensively made up of white male businessmen and the idea of greens is generally limited to a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing and a tomato slice if you’re lucky. Diners seeking more than that count themselves lucky if they can order
a side of steamed broccoli or creamed spinach.

Turning that concept on its head is Fogo de Chão, a fine dining, full-service churrascaria which uses a rodízio style of serving, which involves roving waiters toting barbecued meats on large skewers that are brought table side. The international restaurant chain recently opened its first Long Island location in Carle Place. The 10,000-square foot space boasts 110 staff members scurrying around, serving guests and providing exemplary customer service in ensuring no requests are left unmet. The mood is set by bossa nova music, welcoming you into a warm atmosphere marked by high ceilings, a dark wood decor and a large main dining area with private and semiprivate rooms on the perimeter. It’s a culture of hospitality that is a Fogo hallmark and enabled this unique dining experience to continue growing 40 years after it was founded in the Brazilian countryside community of Porto Alegre by a pair of siblings, Jorge and Alexio Ongaratto and Jair and Arri Coser. But optics alone are not the sole reason for Fogo’s success. It’s the quality, quantity and variety that also welcome guests whose dietary needs are gluten-free and meatless. All this at a restaurant whose name translates to “ground fire” and reflects the traditional gaúcho method of roasting meats over an open fire. It’s something Fogo CEO Barry McGowan is rightfully proud of.

“I’m a healthy eater so I don’t have much time. I can walk right into a Fogo de Chão and have lunch for $15 and order anything I want at the Market Table, which includes smoke salmon and prosciutto. I eat whole foods a lot because of the whole trans-density of it so I eat a lot of beets, broccoli and quinoa. Our menu has a pretty diverse offering for somebody who is vegetarian or vegan,” he said. “We’ve got a vegan cauliflower steak that’s awesome. We are much more than a steakhouse. We’re really accommodating to anyone’s dietary needs and that drives the occasion why you want to come back. But one thing that we’re adamant about is the high quality of food with a lot of flavor. We really pour on the southern Brazilian hospitality and that’s really what we like to do.”

The aforementioned Market Table is a cornerstone of this all-you-can-eat experience and is inspired by the grand kitchen tables on the farms of southern Brazil. It is nearly 100 percent gluten-free and has boatloads of raw fruits and vegetables along with specialty salads (lentil quinoa, quinoa tabouleh, apple salad), seasonal recipes (butternut kale salad, butternut and sweet potato soup, pear and endive salad) and a wide selection of antipasti (pickled onions, Peppadew peppers, marinated artichokes, mixed olives with citrus herbs, sundried tomatoes). Protein options include extensive charcuterie options of cured meats (Calabrese salami, Parma ham leg, imported prosciutto, Spanish chorizo) and aged and imported cheeses (manchego, smoked provolone, baby Swiss, Monte Caputo—semi-hard Brazilian sheep and cow’s milk cheese) along with assorted accompaniments (whole grain mustard, fig jam, caper berries, cornichons). Not to be missed is the smoked salmon, black pepper candied bacon and fogo feijoda, a traditional black bean stew with sausage served over white rice. It can be seasoned with fresh orange, hot sauce and farofa or baked yuca flour with bacon.

But lest you fill up at the Market Table, be sure to leave room for an endless onslaught of beef, pork, lamb and chicken. Every table is a chef’s table at Fogo; the gaúcho chef who carves guests’ fire-roasted meat tableside is the same chef who butchered it, simply seasoned it and grilled it from start to finish. Part of the fixed price system is making use of a tabletop card, green to indicate the diner wants more meat and red signaling that guests have had enough to eat for the moment. Tableside is where non-beef selections include cordeiro (lamb), costela de porco (pork ribs), frango (chicken), lombo (pork loin), linguiça (spicy pork sausage) and pork picanha. But beef is Fogo’s culinary bread and butter. Top cuts are used, preparation is minimal with the delectable outcome partially attributed to the expert way heat is applied throughout the grilling process. Costela (beef ribs), fraldinha (bottom sirloin), alcatra (top sirloin), beef ancho (ribeye) and filet mignon are go-tos but it is picanha (prime part of the sirloin) that is Fogo’s signature steak. Lightly seasoned with rock salt and sliced thin, it is tender with a robust flavor.

Just as diverse as the menu is the clientele.

“Forty percent of our clientele is female and 16 percent are actually family,” McGowan said. “We’re heavily millennial and next generational.”

It’s a big part of what the father of three enjoys when he takes his family out to weekend brunch after church back home in Texas.

Fogo de Chão

“I tell everyone that we’re more than a steakhouse. I think when you discover Fogo, you experience that, especially when you’re with other people. I tell everybody to look around the dining area and see who else is enjoying Fogo. It’s very diverse. We’re not your normal steakhouse where it’s normally people in suit and ties and no family,” he said. “We also have more ethnicity—more people of different races and colors. I’ll just say this, what I love about Fogo is that it’s a very international brand. It’s representative of the people that dine with us because you start to hear the different languages and you see the experience. So really, when you pull back to what separates us when you walk in, it’s not just the experience but the idea that you can have a filet or a rib-eye in any steakhouse. But you can’t go in any steakhouse and have a filet, a rib-eye, lamb chops, fraldinha, picanha, palmittos—all of this is included. But really, it’s just accommodating to anybody that you’re with.”

Part of that dining flexibility is Bar Fogo, which does more than just serve cold adult beverages. Its Monday through Friday happy hour is where patrons can tuck into a sizable $8 picanha burger and wash it down with a caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, which consists of cachaça (sugarcane hard liquor), sugar and lime. Equally delectable are the free servings of pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese dinner rolls that are a delicious staple.

If variety is the spice of life, it’s also the lifeblood pumping through Fogo de Chão and what McGowan says is key to his company’s success.

“The food is delivered in a way that is customized to the individual. Something we say is that your first bite of every dish is the best. At Fogo de Chão, every bite is your first bite. The flavor, the craveability and the experience are all high,” he explained. “The hospitality is high and I’ll say this—all that equates to very strong value for your money. This is where I think we compete well and this is why we have a 40-year longevity. We really focus more on the guests in front of us. Unlike most places around today, we’re pouring more into that.”

Fogo de Chão is located at 235 Old Country Rd. in Carle Place. Visit www.fogodechao.com or call 516-588-7100 for more information.

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Dave Gil de Rubio
In addition to being editor of Massapequa Observer and Hicksville News, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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