An interesting contrast to the Chick-fil-A and Hooters that neighbor it, Terra Gaúcha is Southside’s latest Brazilian steakhouse. The name reflects the food and culture of southern Brazil that the restaurant’s three owners are hoping to share with Northeast Florida. Rodolfo Melo, Joao Rizzon, and Alex Potrich previously worked in Brazilian steakhouse chains and came to Jacksonville for its potential. Combined, the three Brazilian expats have more than 50 years of experience working with the food of the Gaúcha culture.
For those unfamiliar with exactly what a Brazilian steakhouse entails (as I certainly was) here’s tip No. 1: Go to Terra Gaúcha on an empty stomach. For an initially scary – though afterward understandable – price of $39.50 (otherwise known as 40 dollars), a single person can eat enough food to feed all of Southside. Lunch is cheaper, at $26.50 per person.
Diners have the option to relax at the bar prior to eating, or head right to the table for side dishes that never end, which is what we did. First appeared the pão de queijo, a fluffy bread roll of moist, warm cheese. It was this melt-in-your-mouth concoction that led to the bread basket being emptied and refilled probably more times than it should have been. Next was the polenta, fried cornmeal with a crunch that complimented soft, caramelized bananas.
Terra Gaúcha’s cocktail menu includes a caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian drink made with Brazilian rum, sugar, and lime. Both the caipirinha ($9) and the passion caipirinha ($9.50) were tart, sweet, and authentic compliments to the sides.
Finally came a seemingly endless cavalcade of servers presenting the countless meat skewers. In keeping with the authentic churrasco cooking method, the meat is grilled over an open flame on natural wood charcoal. The choices – a variety of succulent chicken, beef, pork, or lamb – are authentically seasoned and cooked to preference. If you’re a beef person, there are seven options. If you’re worried about eating undercooked meat, you can ask the server to shave off a piece of the well-done roast to sample. For vegetarians, Terra Gaúcha offers a well-stocked salad bar with rice, potatoes, salad, cheese wedges, asparagus, and more.
Something important to keep track of is the status of your “Feed me more” or “I’m about to explode” coins (which unfortunately, don’t actually say that). The paper coins, which are waiting for you at your table, have a green side which indicates that the food should keep on coming and a red side which denotes a food break is required. While we ate, the servers moved in quick rotation around each table, appearing with their frango or bovina aloft just when we started thinking we wanted more. They’ll keep doing this until they see that the red side is face up, so it’s paramount to pay attention to your coins; otherwise, there will be a server at your side every 15 seconds.
We ordered crème de papaya ($8.50) – a blend of papaya and vanilla ice cream topped with a swirl of crème de cassis, a liqueur made from blackcurrants – for dessert. It was light and fluffy, a good choice for those whose waistbands may have begun bursting.
Terra Gaúcha’s authentic southern Brazilian cuisine is a good reminder to Northeast Florida residents that “south” doesn’t always mean “fried chicken” and “collards.” For Terra Gaúcha, it means incorporating unique cuisine with a Southern friendliness that isn’t so very different from our own.