Fogo de Chão’s Cocktail Menu Is Surprisingly Thoughtful
How to pair quality drinks with ridiculous amounts of meat
There are certain restaurants that you can safely assume are not going to offer an elevated cocktail experience. Some that immediately come to mind are Taco Bell Cantina, Applebee’s, Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse. All of these places serve a very specific function for very specific functions — an affordable family dinner or a late-night munchies run, for example, depending on where you are in your life.
The thing that all of these establishments have in common is that they are chain restaurants (and that there could be an elevated risk of post-meal indigestion). Gingerbread Cookie Martini or Twisted Freeze alongside a Blooming Onion or Nacho Fries? Pass, I’d rather just have a beer.
So when I was offered a chance to check out the new bar menu at Brazilian steakhouse chain Fogo de Chão in New York — along with literally all of the meats — my expectations were low. But I came away pleasantly surprised, despite the fact that a tropical take on a classic cocktail is usually a red flag.
People have a lot of feelings about what drinks to pair with steak, but how about if said meat comes to your table on long skewers of flesh that are deposited directly onto your plate? Is that even pair-able? At Fogo de Chão, that’s the MO — you get served all of the meats your stomach can contain until you beg for mercy and flip your card over from green to red, the sign for “I can’t fit another bite of ribeye into my mouth.”
Before the skewers start arriving, you are advised to visit the Market Table, a buffet full of veggie side dishes like Brazilian potato salad, rice and beans, apple and butternut squash and Caesar salad (there are some meaty options there too, like the semi-addictive black-pepper candied bacon). Once you’ve loaded up your plate, you head back to your table to watch the meat parade passing by. It’s entirely possible (and, let’s be honest, tempting) to engage in Las Vegas buffet-style gluttony at Fogo de Chão; it’s hard not to overdo it when you know you’re paying a set price for an all-you-can-eat experience. But the pacing is actually pretty good, and I never felt bombarded with food.
About those meats — there were some standouts. The picanha is the signature steak, a tender part of the sirloin that was nicely seasoned. The bone-in ribeye was excellent as well, sliced thin and oozing with fat as it plops down onto your plate. If you really feel like splurging, go for the wagyu New York strip. It comes sizzling to your tableside where it’s sliced and placed on a giant slab of pink salt. This is the carnivorous realization of “buttery,” the kind of steak that quite literally melts in your mouth before you have a chance to chew. The wagyu might bring you to the very brink of meat sweats, but hold back if you can and allow yourself to enjoy some of the lamb and pork options as well.
Throughout all of this, the signature “South American” cocktails will keep you well-lubricated. There were a few highlights, and one that maybe missed the mark a bit, but overall the Fogo bar program seems to be thoughtful and on point. It felt better than it needed to be — maybe a backhanded compliment, but still true. And yes, all of the drinks paired well with the massive amount of meat I consumed that evening, and the fresh fruit flavors provided a welcome respite from the deluge of fatty, salty and savory bites.
First, I tried the Blood Orange Manhattan, which was made with high-quality spirits, an essential factor for any cocktail’s success: Buffalo Trace bourbon, Antica Formula vermouth, Angostura bitters and blood orange. That last component had me a little bit worried, and I expected a fruity, saccharine take on the classic. But this drink worked, with the sweet and tart notes from the fruit buttressing the oaky, vanilla flavor of the bourbon and bitter vermouth. This cocktail was served on the rocks instead of up —the classic style which would have been my preference — but it worked all the same.
Next up: The Caramelized Pineapple Old Fashioned. This was another drink that I approached trepidatiously because it sounds like a formula for candy-sweet overload. Thankfully, this didn’t quite fall into that trap; it’s made using WhistlePig PiggyBack 100% Rye as the base, and that hit of spice plays nicely with the inherent sweetness of the muddled pineapple. After that, I went for a Jorge’s Sour, a Brazilian take on another standard. This was made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Licor 43 and Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca (Brazil’s indigenous version of rum). This was my least favorite of the three because sours are never really my go-to, but the float of Jorjao Malbec on top was a nice touch.
There are many other cocktails to try at Fogo de Chão, like the tequila and Aperol-based Desert Rose or the Samba Squeeze Martini made with Grey Goose Le Citron Vodka and elderflower liqueur. Of course, there is also the Brazilian classic Caipirinha, made with lime and the aforementioned cachaca and probably a surefire bet given the identity of this restaurant (you can upgrade to a premium version with aged cachaca for a few bucks more).
I, however, tried none of these because after three drinks and endless meat skewers, I was ready to lay down underneath my table. It’s hard to say how these cocktails will translate if you decide to visit your local Fogo outpost, but presumably, the chain aspect helps in this regard–less individual bartender flair, more tightly controlled following of recipes. Sure, you could go with a standard red wine and martini pairing if you decide to visit this Brazilian steak skewer eatery, but consider saving some room, if possible, for these tropical riffs on classic cocktails a try instead.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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