Before we get started, let’s all take a moment to lament the sad state of the ‘buffet’ in America today. On the surface, it sounds like a wonderful idea: a restaurant filled with all different varieties of foods. Eat as much or as little as you want! Unlimited variety! Sounds great, right?
Things are different now; buffets have moved from the realm of any foodie’s wildest dream to the realm of culinary nightmare. You see them, sitting like massive tombs off the sides of interstates in small towns just one chemical spill away from 20 years of litigation. Haunted by the elderly and the destitute, they have names like “Hometown Buffet” and “Golden Corral,” their existence a cruel mockery to the very idea of flavor.
If the aforementioned restaurants represent Rome during the invasion by the Visigoths, then Gol Brazilian Restaurant would represent Istanbul under Justinian I. This may sound disingenuous, considering all the terrible things I’m going to say about it, but at its core Gol Brazilian Restaurant is an amazing restaurant with an amazing selection of meats and sides for a reasonable price.
Set in the world’s most disappointing strip mall a block away from the bustling Tyler Mall, Gol Brazilian Restaurant, with a modest facade set in the dimly-lit parking lot, sat between Leslie’s Pool Supplies and Wild Birds Unlimited. The inside was a stark contrast to the outside, the walls painted a vibrant yellow.
The first thing I noticed about the interior was the lack of all sound and decor. While our server, Mariana, took our drink orders, I realized that the interior felt almost entirely devoid of life. There were some generic picture frames on one wall that purportedly had pictures of Brazil, and some wine racks that I’m sure they sell at Pier 1 Imports on another. The other patrons, of which there were about eight, weren’t talking, and the only sound came from a solitary television tuned to Univision deportes and the occasional bout of music from the surround sound. However, the volume from both devices was turned far too low, and I became uncomfortable, sitting in the silence.
The buffet featured a variety of salad items, a selection of white and brown rice, black beans with or without meat and chicken stroganoff, among other dishes I didn’t recognize. I started with a small green salad, rice and beans. At the end of the buffet line, an employee stood by an open rotisserie with the various meat dishes rotating over hot coals. Approaching the counter, I selected a variety of the meats offered, choosing the tri-tip, the bacon-wrapped pork and some sausage. After this, my food was weighed to determine our bill at a rate of $8.50 per pound, and I returned to my table, eager to get started.
Everything tasted wonderful. The black beans and rice were obviously fresh, and the mango salsa I had with my green salad provided a sweet contrast to the savory overtones of spinach, olives and romaine lettuce. The meats, however, were the star of the meal. The tri-tip, which I sampled first, was soft and bloody, which I appreciated because I grew up eating rare steak. It had a sharp, spicy kick, and was as tender as veal (without the horrible implications of eating baby cows). The bacon-wrapped pork was sweet and succulent, with a blend of spices reminiscent of Cuban cuisine. The sausage was the least spectacular part of my first serving, merely because it didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor of the other items.
For round two, after I spent a few moments coming to terms with the fact that I had just eaten an entire pound of food, I decided to step a bit outside of my comfort zone. I loaded my plate up with black bean and beef stew, fried plantains, fried yucca, pumpkin stew, cheese bread, black pepper chicken and top sirloin smeared with ‘chimichurri’: a spicy, oily seasoning for the steak. The meat was wonderful and spicy, and while I wasn’t particularly impressed by the pumpkin stew or fried plantains, I was glad to have the new experience under my belt. The cheesy bread was also particularly intriguing, as it was a goat-cheese ball covered in a bread coating, sort of like a far-superior mozzarella stick.
It was during my meal that I realized all my qualms about “atmosphere” and “decor” was really a bunch of nonsense. In its purest sense, the word “restaurant” denotes a place people go to get food, and that is all Gol Brazilian Restaurant is. Not to say atmosphere doesn’t matter, it just so happens that the food at Gol Brazilian Restaurant was so good I found myself unable to care. The overall vibe had a homespun quality to it: with all the charm of a home-cooked meal.
Besides, restaurants tend to be a tad gauche with their decorations, and after I adjusted I began to appreciate the interior’s muted sensibility. There was no time for talk, television or any other social activity after I got my plate, because I had a pile of meat from several different species that was so auspicious I considered myself practically the opposite of PETA. The only reason that I took off half a star is because the menu is on rotation at Gol Brazilian Restaurant and there were a few things I didn’t get to try. I, however, know that I’ll be back soon, and I encourage any of you reading this to come too, as long as you’re not faint of heart or a vegetarian.