I took a lunch meating with a Hollywood pal in May, 2005.
We talked movies, and we talked meat. Meat, meat and more meat.
Tri-tip. Pepper steak. Garlic steak. Beef kabob. Top sirloin.
It’s (almost) all about meat when you’re at Amazon Churrascaria in Fullerton (in Orange County, Calif.). Churrascaria are a particularly Brazilian mix of barbecue and steakhouse, featuring waiters who roam the room bearing sword-length skewers, each loaded with a chunk of meat, still steaming hot from the open-flame grill tucked into the kitchen.
Brazilian touches extend to the decor. A waterfall cascades down a wall facing the front door. Faux jungle plants, and crypto jungle-ruin panels cover the walls. It made me think of the kid-favorite Rainforest Cafe chain, sans roaring animatronics, flashing lights and corporate-restaurant mega-merchandising.
A curious touch of the American Midwest dominates the middle of the large restaurant, which has served in former lives as a Chinese buffet and a Country Inn buffet. A salad bar of sorts, the kind popular in Peoria in the ’80s, harbors mayo-based salads, three-bean salads, cheesy breads, some soups. And in one corner, the very Brazilian treat of banana frita: ripe banana strips rolled in cinnamon-flavored flour, deep-fried and coated with sugar. Delicious.
Returning to your booth, it’s pretty basic. Red oilcloth-covered tables, well-worn water goblets, a short list of Chilean table wines and the guys bringing the meat. As long as you keep a little tabletop red-yellow-and-green spindle turned green-side up, they keep carving. It’s all you can eat, for as long as you can eat. (Put the spindle red side up and it means stop, already! Sideways means bring the bill.)
For lunch ($12.75), the fare typically is limited — if you can call it that — to a dozen cuts of beef, pork sausage, giant chicken drumsticks and turkey cubes wrapped in bacon.
At dinner ($21.75), the choices expand to 22 different meats. All the beef you can get at lunch, plus skirt steak, succulent beef and pork ribs, ribeye, lamb. There’s roasted salmon. And now the exotics come in. Alligator, duck, quail, chicken heart.
The aroma of smoky meat fills the room, and depending on your sensibilities, it is either delectable or overpowering.
None of it should come as a surprise. You know what you’re getting the minute you pull into the parking lot.
One of those big photo banners hangs on the exterior wall facing the parking lot. A smiling meat server manhandles a loaded skewer. A dozen other full skewers loom next to him. Barbecue smells, richer than anything that wafts over your backyard fence, fill the air.
My pal (who introduced me to this place that we’ve come to call “that meat palace” while we were each in our Atkins Diet phase) and I liked the smell outside and in. My wife, who joined me for a Saturday-night meal, was firmly in the overpowered camp.
She liked the skirt steak and the ribeye, but six or seven servings of different meats later, she was full and ready to go. She waited patiently for me to work through the beef rib — as beautiful as any prime rib I’ve had — the quail, the alligator, the rabbit, the pork.
For her patience, she rewarded herself with a chocolate cheesecake served from a rolling cart by Jessica, the “dessert girl” — another curious Midwestern touch — and we split a pineapple sorbet that was a perfect cap to my gorging: light, creamy, cold and served in a hollowed-out pineapple husk.
Restaurant manager Roman Alcaraz says they’ve built a loyal following, among area Brazilians to be sure — perhaps it’s the caipirinha cocktails, a sort of Brazilian margarita made with cachaca, a type of Brazilian rum — but also from the full melange of Orange County’s many immigrants, be they Asian, Latin or Illinoisan.
Owner Kent Choy, a CPA in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, got the idea for Amazon from a client, and in December 2002 it opened as the only one of its kind in Orange County. A few churrascaria serve Los Angeles County, and the staff in Fullerton hears rumors of a competitor coming to Irvine.
But for now, it’s a singular kind of experience, a great place to meat a pal.