This is the week to eat at Amazon Grill in Goose Creek. With the Brazilian national team rolling through the World Cup and heavily favored to see the finals, it will most certainly be a packed house. A plethora of internationals descends daily on this burgeoning hot spot, eating, drinking, and discussing the world's most popular game in several languages. Watching the World Cup with a pile of rabid Brazilian soccer fans supplies loads of fun all by itself; being able to simultaneously eat yourself silly in a raw, carnivorous manner makes for pure joy.
For a restaurant, let alone an all-you-can-eat buffet, the place gleams spotlessly, a rarity for high-volume eateries. High-gloss floor tiles and lacquered tables line the space, watched over by large wall murals that depict, among other themes, what must be the two most influential men in popular Brazilian culture, Pelé and Jesus. But no one comes here for the décor. People congregate for the large screen projection system (which carries all of the World Cup matches) and the fact that for 18 dollars and change, you can stuff yourself with spit-roasted meat and a variety of Brazilian specialties.
Amazon Grill is Charleston's first "Brazilian Steakhouse," a dining craze familiar to many urban centers in the U.S.; churrascarias have been popping up all over the country for the past few years. It works like this: you pay a flat rate for the "buffet" and gain access not only to the traditional steam table setup (think Ryan's Steakhouse with an exotic flair), but also commandeer a roving platoon of servers who continuously supply your table with a variety of freshly carved spit-roasted meat. A small circular card, green on one side, red on the other, becomes your only defense against the onslaught, a red surface indicating that you have had enough, green drawing more flesh to the table.
The carvers bring large skewers laden with roasted sirloins, strip steaks, ribeye roasts, pork spareribs, bacon-wrapped chicken breasts, lamb legs, chicken wings, and even chicken hearts — if you are brave enough. The meats, some flavored with exotic spice rubs, are somewhat hit and miss, but for 18 bucks who expects the strip meat to be top quality? If you don't like the first offering, move on to one you can enjoy. Most are simply delicious and downright fun. The lamb spills from the spit, all succulent and juicy, the fat melting over the tender meat. The pork spare ribs fall quivering from the bone, slowly cooked and exotically seasoned. Chicken hearts, little orbs of delicious gaminess, bounce from the skewer wildly in all directions, rolling across the table to the detriment of squeamish diners. More meat arrives, the beer and soda flow, and the howl of the World Cup surrounds your distended belly.
If you like your meat well done, then the strip steak, sirloin, and chicken breast are for you. I found them somewhat dry and overcooked (I kept hoping for some unusual sauce to appear that might anoint the meat), but that is a jaded view coming from a man who eats his ribeye raw in the center. Others may find them to be perfectly done. Amazon Grill has a selection diverse enough to satisfy a large group and the volume to stuff them into oblivion.
In addition to the roasted selections the steam bar and dessert table offer a great range of Brazilian specialties. Fried yucca, various rice pilafs, fried fish, black beans, and more stand at the ready, perfect accompaniments to the more carnivorous fare. For dessert, flans and custards full of exotic fruits provide a cool requiem for those who can stuff in a bit more. All of them taste excellent, but who cares after all that meat?
Amazon Grill is not the absolute best place in town to eat steak, chicken, lamb, or even chicken hearts. But restaurants are about more than an exemplary dish. There is a certain conviviality, a friendliness to the place that one rarely experiences in haughtier places serving pricier food. Much of this undoubtedly comes from the spirit of the people who own and maintain such a unique enterprise. My hat is off to them. Despite the cultural barriers of language and custom, they exude an unparalleled warmth. One feels at home here, taken care of as if part of the extended family. There's great value in that; it speaks to a restaurant's "soul." These are the types of places that do not pretend; they serve real food to real people who keep coming back because it provides a place where they feel they belong — and at Amazon Grill they make it deliciously easy to fit right in. If this reveals the outcome of immigration in America, then I have chosen my side.