By Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter Published Jan 12, 2013 at 9:02 AM Photography: Colleen Jurkiewicz

I'm not much of a foodie. I really admire people who can identify and appreciate the different flavors in a dish or sauce and who describe their meal using words like "tone" and "note," as if they were eating a symphony.

But frankly, more often than not, I am intimidated by gourmet restaurants and even more so by dishes I cannot pronounce and ingredients I am unfamiliar with.

But not anymore

Rodizio Grill opened last month at 777 N. Water St., and on Thursday I went there for lunch with the general manager, Marty Veidins, to find out just what was going on in the space previously occupied by Sabor.

Rodizio Grill opened its first restaurant in Denver in 1995; now it boasts 12 locations across the country; three opened in the last month. The corporation prides itself on authenticity, approachability and – of course – good old-fashioned tastiness.

"We're the only Brazilian steakhouse in Milwaukee," said Veidins, glossing over the previous tenant in the Rodizio space. "There's a lot of other big cities that have them and for some reason they've all excluded Milwaukee, except for us."

Rodizio Grill is part of the Supple Restaurant Group, headquartered in Oshkosh, so it belongs to a varied family of restaurants that includes a Golden Corral and Melting Pot. The addition of a Brazilian steakhouse will diversify the company's portfolio considerably.

"It's a whole different type of service, a whole different type of food. It just adds a whole new type of experience," Veidins said. And it's an experience that he and his staff work very hard to keep authentic to Brazilian traditions.

"There's a very small community of Brazilians in Milwaukee, but they're very passionate people and they've been very, very excited for us. They've definitely found us," he said. "Some of our competitors across the country are Americanizing more. Our founders are Brazilian. The recipes we use are somebody's grandmother's recipes from Brazil, you know what I mean? Very traditional."

Naturally, Sabor and Rodizio are often confused, both being Brazilian restaurants and both having occupied the space at 777 N. Water St.

But it would be inaccurate to lump them together because of their cuisine and location.

"We're a lot different than Sabor," Veidins said. "We have a lot more variety than Sabor, a bigger, expanded salad bar, more meats and a cheaper price. They were at $50 for dinner, we're at $31.99. Quite a bit of value and a little bit more encouraging for people to come in to give it a try."

And you have to come in and give it a try, he said, or you just won't understand. "(Brazilian dining) is such a unique experience. If you don't come in and try it for yourself, it's very hard to explain."

"Rodizio" is a style of restaurant in Brazil where diners pay a fixed price and are served at their tables, usually from a skewer, until they signal that they are full. Fittingly, that's exactly how it works at Rodizio Grill. "Gauchos" wearing traditional Brazilian garb will serve you till you burst – or until you let them know that you are ready to take a break by turning over the "meat cue" that sits at the edge of the table.

"The meat cue starts your experience," Veidins explained. "Flip it to green, gauchos come over and start carving tableside. Red means 'We're still enjoying the appetizers,' or if you need a little break (during the main course, as the gauchos come at a brisk pace). Turning it on its side means, 'We can't take anymore."

Diners can opt for the "Full Rodizio" menu at a price of $31.99 ($18.99 for lunch), where they have the benefit of unlimited gourmet salads and made-from-scratch soup prior to their main course; or, for a lighter (and cheaper) option, $18.99 will get them access the salad bar only ($12.99 for lunch) – although more than a hearty meal can be made from the salads themselves.

And it's a good place for family dining. "Even with kids, there's the same variety, just a different price," Veidins said.

Since I was eating with the management, I got to take advantage of the Full Rodizio. Veidins explained some of the more specialized salad items to me, like the feijoada, a delectable mixture of beans and pork served over rice and topped with farofa and bacon. Fried bananas fritas glazed in cinnamon and sugar, he said, were to help cleanse the palate (I don't know about that, but they tasted amazing).

The pao de quiejo (cheese bread) is made from yuca flour and is gluten-free, like the majority of the menu items at Rodizio. The menu is also entirely MSG-free.

My favorite salads were the salada de frango (chicken salad) and the salada de quiejo fresco (fresh mozzarella salad) - the latter being, as Veidins pointed out, a clear indication of the Italian influence on Brazilian cuisine.

I told Veidins that I usually shy away from fine dining experiences, explaining that I am not a very adventurous eater.

He told me that Rodizio Grill is a great place for people like me – and also for people who do like to be adventurous and try new things. The price may not be cheap, but the quantity cannot be disputed. And while the ambiance and decor at the restaurant is distinctly elegant, what he wants his staff to emphasize more than anything is openness and hospitality.

"One of the things that we're fighting a little bit is that Sabor was a little bit higher price," he said. "And we are also a nice, high-end place so when you walk in, you think, this is fine dining, this is too nice for me. People say, 'Am I dressed okay to be here?' And I'm like, 'Come in pajamas, I don't care!'

"We want a lighter atmosphere, not quite as stuffy, almost more of a carnevale experience. Obviously the service we want to keep at a high level but we don't want it to sound like a library in here."

As if on cue, the serving staff exited the kitchen clapping and singing a lively Portuguese birthday song for one of our fellow diners.

Then came the main course. I'm being honest here: I have never seen a more glorious parade of meat in my life. If Ron Swanson died, his Heaven would be Rodizio Grill. I only stopped eating because I thought it would be rude, after his hospitality, to burst open in front of Veidins. He was very gracious in the face of my gluttony, however, as I explained to him that the reason I don't usually enjoy gourmet restaurants is because they entail lots of money and tiny portions.

"We're going to have 11 skewers (of meats) today. You might not like one of them. But then you go eat the other 10," he told me.

"One of the unique things about coming to a Brazilian steakhouse is if you're in a time crunch, there's no better place to be because as soon as we turn (the meat cue) green, we can start serving. On top of that, there is variety. You go to a traditional restaurant and you order a plate of food. If you don't like it, you're stuck with it. You don't get the chance to be adventurous. Here, you get to try everything on our menu. If you don't like it, you just don't eat it, and you go back to the stuff you do."

Unfortunately for me, there was literally no dish that I did not like. But my favorites were the tender, juicy picanha (sirloin), peru com bacon (bacon-wrapped turkey) and sobre coxa, (chicken marinated in beer). "A little bit of Brazil, and a little bit of Milwaukee," joked our waiter, Ross.

I ate each meat with a side of chimichurri from the salad bar. The sauce is made to go on grilled meats and was especially effective with the sirloin cuts, but I also thought it gave a tangy kick to the peru com bacon and even the sweet and spicy frango agri-doce chicken offering.

Don't worry, vegetarians: there's something for you, too. In addition to the many meatless salads, Rodizio also serves succulent tomate grelhado com parmesao (tomatoes and grilled parmesan) as well as abacaxi, a glazed pineapple.

We finished up with a brigadeiro banana sundae and rabanada, a warm cinnamon pastry drizzled in caramel with vanilla ice cream on the side.

Veidins reported that the restaurant has gotten "busier and busier each week" since its Dec. 6 opening. Its prime Water Street location, with hotels, theaters and office buildings as far as the eye can see, helps with the foot traffic.

If you're curious about Rodizio Grill and have never tried Brazilian cuisine before, I suggest you opt for the cheaper lunch pricing to try it out. And I'm sure Veidins doesn't mind me saying that.

We both know you'll probably be back for dinner.

Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter

Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.