Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Open Fire Grilled Brazilian Food Truck

Coming from a city (Chicago) that's unapologetically apathetic towards a recent popular culinary trend that the rest of the country somehow manages to embrace, I'm constantly amazed by the number and diversity of food trucks in the greater Tampa Bay area. Case in point - whle driving past our local mall the other day, I happened to just notice out of the corner of my eye what appeared to be a food truck nestled into a tight space between the Upper Tampa Bay hiking trail and a bike shop, nearly invisible unless you were seeking it out. Upon some further investigation, I determined that the truck (called Open Fire Grilled Brazilian) specializes in grilled meats like one would find at Brazilian steakhouses, you know, the ones with gaucho waiters running around the dining room brandishing giant swords of various delectable beef, pork, and other cuts for mass consumption. Excited to have discovered such interesting eats mere minutes from the Canteen, I vowed to check it out for lunch one Thursday afternoon while Hackknifette stayed late at preschool for Lunch Bunch.

Getting to the truck is a little tricky - it's typically parked next to the trail at 7424 Edgemere Road on the property of Citrus Park Bikes, which is accessible from a frontage road that runs along Gunn Highway. I couldn't tell if the unmarked area where I parked on Edgemere was for local residents or for trail users (maybe both); regardless, I was pleasantly surprised to find no waiting at the height of the lunch rush. Given the lack of customers (which, I suppose, could also be taken as a bad sign), the owner Cesar was able to give me a detailed rundown of his food offerings and a little about his personal history. He grew up in southern Brazil learning about grilling meat from the older relatives in the family. At a relatively young age, he joined a company opening steakhouses in Brazil and excelled to the point where his bosses sent him up to Miami to oversee what turned out to be the first Brazilian steakhouse in America (this was back in 1996). Since then, he's bounced around North America consulting on various churrascario projects until eventually settling down in Tampa with his own food truck that he started this past November. The space constraints of operating a mobile restaurant force him to keep his menu relatively simple - patrons can order picanha (top sirloin with a nice strip of fat across the edge), filet mignon, marinated chicken, or skirt steak, either a value portion of the meat on a skewer with pita bread or a larger serving with black beans, white rice, something called farofa (yucca flour mixed with bacon and herbs), and a piquant vinaigrette. I opted to go whole hog (so to speak) and chose the full-size portion of picanha with all the trimmings, plus a can of Guarana Antarctica (Brazil's #2 soda behind Coke, which contains the quasi-cherry flavored extract of the guarana plant from the Amazon Basin - it also has more caffeine than coffee) to wash it down.

I raced home to eat before everything got cold and dug in (see photo above). The meat was cooked perfectly to order (medium rare), well seasoned, and generally delicious, with the acidic vinaigrette providing a nice palate cleanser. Both the black beans and rice, two items that can be bland in the wrong hands, were equally good, making me suspicious that they had been gloriously dosed with a generous helping of both salt and fat (bacon grease?). Even the farofa was very tasty, if not a little grainy - it reminded me of the bread crumb and butter mixtures that have traditionally topped many Betty Crocker casseroles since the 1950s (and I mean that in the best possible sense) and I'm not entirely sure I was using it correctly (does it go on the meat? on the rice? by itself? all of the above?). In any case, Cesar's cooking appears to be the real deal and I'm greatly looking forward to trying more on another lunch visit (or hiring him to cater my next party - he told me that catering allows him to prepare a larger selection of items and provides the bulk of his business)...

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