Cafe do Brasil, 440 NW 11, makes Oklahoma City home to something most major metropolitan areas do not have: A regional Brazilian restaurant and apple cake that will hug your taste buds like they were related.
The collected wisdom on the subject of Brazilian food in this country doesn't amount to much more than the fast-vanishing vapor trail of the churrascaria fad of the late 1990s.
While most of the churrascarias survived Y2K but not Y2K+10, Ana Paixao Davis' Cafe do Brasil was busy establishing itself as a key cog in the growth of MidTown and vital chapter in the story of Oklahoma City dining.
Cafe do Brasil sprang from a 1994 partnership between Davis and her brother, Mario, called More Than Muffins. That counter-service concept served breakfast and lunch from a small storefront at 1903 Classen Blvd now occupied by the Guatemalan restaurant Cafe Antigua.
“The first day, we made $65; the second day, $120 and I thought ‘Yes, yes!' But we worked really hard cooking and cleaning, and had little money to pay ourselves after we paid our staff, which eventually grew to seven.”
In 1998, Ana bought out her brother, changed the name of the restaurant and introduced native Brazilian cuisine. The change was a hit, causing her to quickly outgrow the space on Classen. She and husband Larry Davis, and immigration attorney, bought and renovated Garrison Funeral Home at 440 NW 11. Larry Davis hung a shingle in the building and Ana Davis opened her 15,000 square foot restaurant on Nov. 22, 2005.
In the past seven-plus years, Ana Davis and staff have established Cafe do Brasil as a top spot for lunch and dinner and opened the Bossa Nova Bar in an upstairs space that boasts a rooftop patio with a view that's second to, perhaps, only Vast.
Rather than fall into the meat-faucet style of churrascarias that was trendy when she started, Davis has focused on foods from various regions of Brazil.
At lunch, Cafe do Brasil is one of the downtown area's best values, offering well-portioned dishes that offer more heart-smart choices than average, all for about $10.
At night, the venerable cafe transforms into fine-dining. Dishes range from steak to seafood with tons of vegetarian and chicken dishes in between.
The signature dish is Feijoada, a stew of black beans, sausage and pork served with rice collard greens and the toasted-flour mixture called farofa. This rustic dish of Brazilian comfort food is derived from a portion of history Brazil shares with the United States that neither nation can be proud of: Slavery.
The Portuguese Empire colonized Brazil in the 16th Century and began shipping slaves in shortly thereafter. And just as slaves in this country showed resourcefulness by turning ingredients considered undesirable into flavor-rich comfort food, so, too, did the slaves of Brazil. Applying traditional African technique on castoff pork, rice, beans and greens, Brazilian comfort food was born.
Brazilian cuisine also is greatly influenced by its proximity to the ocean and the men who sailed it.
Xin-Xin is clearly founded on Asian techniques. The chicken and shrimp dish is cooked in palm oil with coconut milk, cashews, peanut paste, and dried shrimp over rice.
Stroganoff de Frango features grilled chicken with mushrooms flambeed in white wine, mixed with cream and served over rice and topped with crispy potatoes.
Cafe do Brasil doesn't completely ignore churrasco fare. Churrasco Misto is marinated top sirloin, pork tenderloin and sausage are skewered and grilled before arriving on your table over white rice, black beans and collard greens. The Picanha Special is a steak served with chimichurri.
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