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In Dining

A sampling of the offerings from Rodizio Grill's gourmet salad bar include (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

The "meat cue" signals the waiters, or "gauchos," when you are ready to be served. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

The tantalizing brigadeiro banana sundae. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

The dining room at Rodizio Grill has a contemporary, vibrant feel to it. Very few decorations are recycled from Sabor. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

The gourmet salad bar offers a wide range of appetizers as well as made-from-scratch soup. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

Servers at Rodizio Grill carve meat tableside from a skewer. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

The wine room can hold up to 2,400 bottles of wine. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

In Dining

A water feature is located near the front entrance. (PHOTO: Colleen Jurkiewicz)

Rodizio Grill makes a good first impression

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.

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Aardvark | Jan. 14, 2013 at 10:51 a.m. (report)

It's called a churrascaria and the fried bananas are meant to help push the digestive system along because of all that meat haha

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