Flip through an in-flight magazine and there’s pretty good chance you’ll see an ad for a Brazilian steakhouse chain, the type where waiters brandish long skewers of glistening meat to slice tableside. Soon you’ll be able to see it in person in downtown New Orleans, and taste the picanha, alcatra, fraldinha and other specialty cuts that are the calling card of these restaurants.
The Brazilian steakhouse brand Fogo de Chão is preparing to open its first Louisiana location, with a restaurant under construction in the JW Marriott hotel. It’s scheduled to open at 614 Canal St. sometime this winter.
“New Orleans is an incredible city with a vibrant live-music and restaurant scene,” said Fogo de Chão CEO Larry Johnson. “We started in Brazil more than 35 years ago, we see a number of cultural similarities between our brand and New Orleans. Fogo is a place where our guests celebrate life.”
Fogo de Chão restaurants are churrascarias, a style of steakhouse that’s both traditional and popular in its native Brazil. Using a fixed price service format called rodizio, customers can eat their fill of various spit-roasted meats that waiters whisk around the dining room, with a buffet for sides, salads and other dishes.
The planned New Orleans restaurant is part of a national expansion for the Dallas-based Fogo de Chão, which has 26 locations in 16 states.
“We’ve set our sights on New Orleans for quite some time, it was just a matter of finding the right location,” said Johnson.
He said the Canal Street location would “put us at the crossroads between downtown and one of the most amazing entertainment districts in the world, the French Quarter,” and be highly visible and accessible for customers.
The JW Marriott was once home to a more conventional American steakhouse, a location of Shula’s from the famed Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula. It closed several years ago and was replaced by the Canal Street Grill, a hotel-run eatery.
New Orleans saw a ripple of similar churrascarias emerge in the years after Hurricane Katrina. The Atlanta-based chain Fire of Brazil once had a location on Iberville Street in the French Quarter. Much more casual, independent churrascarias emerged in Gretna with Brazil Latino and in Mid-City with Carnaval Bar & Grill, though these subsequently closed.
Today, there’s a homespun churrascaria in Kenner called Churra’s Brazilian Grill (3712 Williams Blvd.) that has a self-serve format and a dining room that, when Brazilian soccer teams are on TV, can resemble an expat club house.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.