You can take the cowboy out of the country but he’ll just bring the country right along with him. That’s what the Coser brothers and business partners Jorge and Aleixo Ongaratto did when they opened their first Fogo de Chão in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1981.
The name literally means fire in the ground, or campfire. The ‘churrasco’ method of slowly roasting the freshest cuts of meat and eating them immediately, is the traditional heart of the gaucho (rancher/cowboy) diet.
Now corporate-owned with 26 stores throughout North and South America, Fogo de Chão has forged its latest endeavor in Rosemont. Comfortably seating upwards of 500 throughout a 10,000 square foot facility and four private dining rooms, Fogo offers prix fixe menus that feature generous carvings of freshly-grilled meats and an extensive salad bar.
Diners dictate how their meat service will go by controlling it with tableside cards they flip from red to green. Fogo’s expert servers are trained to spot the small discs and be tableside within seconds.
Offerings include tender filet mignon, alcatra (top sirloin), fraldinha (bottom sirloin), beef ancho (prime rib eye), and the tender picanha (prime sirloin). In addition, there are velvety mini lamb chops, succulent pork ribs, chicken and even linguiça, a slow-roasted pork sausage.
The 16 cuts offered are the best parts of the animals, according to Ronaldo Chiesa, assistant general manager.
The staff recommends having small portions to experience the wide variety of meats but, for those who prefer to keep it even lighter, Fogo’s salad bar has more than 40 freshly-made items including chilled salads, rustic artisan breads, aromatic cheeses and house-smoked salmon. Portions are the same for both lunch and dinner but prices do vary. Lunch is $26.50; salad bar only, $19.50. Dinner is $46.50; salad bar only $22.50.
Gluten free and other dietary restriction menus are also available. Let the reservationist know when you call so the staff can be alerted even before you’re seated.
“It’s a unique experience in that it is customizable by the guest,” explained Adam Jurczak, general manager. “If you’re looking for that in-and-out quick business lunch, you can do that. If you’re looking for a full-on, two-and-a-half hour culinary experience, you can have that, too.”
The picanha, a prime sirloin, is a must-try. Served in choice of doneness, the sizzling and aromatic cut is a fiesta in your mouth. The melt-in-your-mouth mini lamb chops are seasoned with mint leaves that reduce the gaminess; and the fraldinha, flank or London Broil, is cut from the bottom of the sirloin, seasoned and cooked tender to desired doneness. Roasted bananas, fried polenta and garlic mashed potatoes accompany every meal.
If there’s room for dessert, Jurczak suggests Fogo’s signature papaya cream, said to contain enzymes that aid digestion.
“It’s really a memorable experience (and) we’re here to take care of every detail of your event, or just dinner for two,” said Patrick Kennedy, sales and marketing manager for Rosemont and downtown Chicago stores.