Fogo de Chão Expansion
Hero and image photo by Natalie Hall
I hadn’t been to Fogo for a couple of years, so I was impressed by how established the new addition seemed. There were no unfinished ends where they took the wall out. A seam in the newly expanded bar could have just been to break up the also-expanded marble bar. The tables were set with nothing out of place; there were no remaining construction scuffs. The servers and bartenders moved about their expanded kingdom without a missed beat in the staffing zones.
The only issue the team experienced during the expansion was, according to Fogo senior executive Patrick Greyard, that the light bulbs they were hanging from the ceiling were discontinued and so they had to source a similar style with a different hanging height. The effect? Instead of walking through sterile, industrial lighting, you have a more welcoming, softer depth. Pretty good for a “hiccup.”
As the bar area has expanded again, the focus on Fogo’s happy hour has grown. Most of the menu items have stayed the same, but it's always good to remember there’s a $12 picanha burger calling your name as well as $4 Brazilian Bites like the braised beef rib sliders. (As their general manager Eliseu Ziger says, it’s Fogo meat on all of these.) I had a bite of their Brazilian emapanadas, which automatically got my approval due to the pastry-to-filling ratio, and I fell in love with their side dish pão de queijo, a.k.a. the cheesy bread rolls that come with every dining room meal.
I was told the pãos de queijo were like popovers, so clearly I’ve just had mediocre popovers up until now. There wasn’t a hard edge to the bite, just a soft cushion that opened up to reveal Parmesan cheese blended perfectly within the elasticity of the dough. Update: Pãos are gluten free due to their yucca flour, and the only things in the entire restaurant that aren’t gluten free are the French bread served by the market table and beer- and brandy-marinated chicken.
Select cocktails are also served at happy hour prices, and the Fogo Caipirinha, made of Fogo Silver Cachaça, limes and cane sugar, drops more than a third of its price to $8. (Cachaça is Brazilian rum made from pure cane sugar instead of molasses.) It was light and refreshing, and I could easily see it at a spa retreat, a special occasion dinner or at, obviously, a happy hour, where it gives you the spring feeling you need to shrug off the day’s worries and take on the evening. I had the normal caipirinha, made with Fogo Silver Cachaça, and couldn’t taste the alcohol at all. During dinner, my guest had the Fogo Premium made with premium aged cachaça, and while we could taste the alcohol mixed in, it didn’t have any burn going down. Although Fogo has a good number of craft cachaça cocktails, they also have other Brazil-inspired cocktails, South American wines and Brazilian beers, also included in their happy hour discounts.
As for the meat and the market table (also known as one of the best salad bars in Minnesota), there’s not much to say other than Fogo is still meeting the high, high expectations it has created since the Minneapolis location opened in 2007 and, really, since the restaurant first debuted in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1979. All of the meat slices were tantalizing, but there’s a reason the picanha top sirloin is their signature steak. Definitely save room for that one. As is probably every person's advice for eating at Fogo, pace yourself. There's a lot of premium meat, a lot of colorful options at the market table and a special meal to be had, whether you're having a private party behind the hand-carved, three-inch thick Brazilian-wood doors or dining in the new expansion.