The new rule of AlIris Farms is that if you visit, you must write a guest post on this blog. My first guest to visit after implementation of this rule was my college buddy Ward Whitehead. For folks that think I’m interesting, you would love to meet Ward. After doing dozens of pro-level motorcycle races with his Yamaha RZ-350, he started doing triathalons. After completing the Boston Triathalon in under 9 hours (I think he was the first non-pro to finish), he went to college. In college, he metamorphized his 150 lb ectomorphish frame into a massive 205 lb. rugby god, where he played rubby with me (Trinity Dogs of War) and the popular club the Toronto Barbarians as 8 man. He has advanced degrees in philosophy and chose firefighting right out of college because it “provided meaningful service to society while giving him time to read.”
He visited us during Labor Day. Unfortunately, his aunt, who lives about 30 minutes away from us took ill and had to go to the hospital. Seeing that his cousins were tending to their mom, he thought he should get out of their hair and spend the weekend with us. Unfortunate circumstances, but I’ll take any and all the time I can get with Ward. During one of the evenings, we decided to go out to nearby Bridgeport to one of my favorite restaurants, the Brazillian meatorama, Pantanal.
Next time you’re in Bridgeport, CT to visit the zoo or to take the ferry to Long Island and you find yourself with time to kill, don’t panic — get your ass over to its best kept secret, Pantanal Restaraunt & Churrascaria at 215 Frank Street.
The decor, if you can call it decor — may seem strangely reminiscent of your 70s era wood-paneled basement rec-room. You may find no consolation in the fact that the wood is oriented diagonally or that it is real wood rather than paneling but I am certain that once you taste the food any and all concerns about the setting will quickly evaporate.
You may share my own previous naivete in thinking that Churrasco consists only of a delicious traditional Brazilian technique to cook chicken and if so a visit to Pantanal is the perfect and most delicious way to disavow you of this erroneous notion because they bring Churrasco up a few levels both in the way it is done and in the variety of meats they cook thusly.
The heart of the restaurant consists of a buffet with a massive L-shaped station where one serves oneself. There is usually a queue but don’t fret, because the line moves quickly. The first part of the buffet consists of salad and other vegetables and the second features the hot dishes. All told there must have been about two or three dozen dishes in the buffet including fried-fish and shrimp ceviche. Go lightly as you select this food because at the end of the second table you will find the raison d’etre of Pantanal: the Churrasco area where skilled carvers will cheerily and expertly slice and heap on your plate however much your eyes and stomach desire of their mouthwatering chicken wings and breast, brisket, sausage, ribs and steak.
I like broccoli and it looked perfectly dark-green so I served myself a generous helping of it from the cold-buffet. They must steam it then chill it in cold-water before setting it out in the buffet because although it was cooked it was not soggy in the least — a very pleasant surprise from the typical raw or overcooked broccoli one finds at a buffet… or from mom’s kitchen for that matter! The fried-plantains were truly excellent with a lovely crisp, caramelized outside contrasting in texture as well as in taste against the soft and subtly-tangy center.
One would certainly not expect lasagna in a buffet at a Churrasco restaurant to be, at best, anything but mediocre and one might be ill-advised to even bother to try it but it looked piping-hot and gooey so I threw caution to the wind and helped myself to a modest sample-sized portion and I was pleasantly surprised — it had to be home-made with generous quantities of flavorful cheese and the pasta itself somehow managed to still be al-dente despite coming from a buffet. I am sure the turnover of the dishes due to the great popularity of the restaurant helps in this regard. It was very, very good and that an Italian dish is that well done in a Brazilian restaurant I think comprises an accurate metric of just how good all their food is.
Now we come to the revelatory part of the Pantanal experience: the Churrasco. This cooking technique of course ensures that the meat cooks slowly in its own juices. The chicken virtually falls off the bone and melts in your mouth and the steak rivals the most succulent I’ve ever tasted at any steak-house.
The really beauty part is that the food is sold by weight which is especially ideal if you are a light or big-eater as you take exactly how much you want and avoid leaving behind unwanted food or heading home for a apres-meal snack — as I’ve often done — because the portions were too small. And if your eyes are bigger than your stomach you simply grab an aluminum tray from the self-serve takeout shelves and make your own “doggie-bag.” This is also a great option if you would prefer to skip the retro-70s-basement experience and simply take-out your food. Eat in or carry-out, it costs just $7.49/lb for mixed plates or $8.49/lb if you are getting solely Churrasco which is probably cheaper than a basic cut of steak one would buy from the local butcher!
There were five of us in my party and the bill totaled just $71 after tax and before tip. Yes I picked up the tab!
Pantanal can be found at: 215 Frank St, Bridgeport, CT 06604