Monday, March 1, 2010

Picanha's Grilled Sausage and Chicken Wrapped in Bacon

I've mentioned that I'm not crazy about Mexican food, and my mind allowed this preference to infect my views on other Latin American food, none of which I ever find very interesting. I noted my ignorance when I went to my first rodizio in Harajuku, an intentionally funky neighborhood in Tokyo. I had heard of this style of restaurant from my brother, who once marveled at the experience of eating something impaled by a sword. Simple seasoning, preparation, and presentation yielded an unusually engaging meal that seemed never ending. While I was quite taken with the chicken hearts and picanha, I naturally avoided the sausage and chicken wrapped in bacon. I concluded that the best stuff was within my range of edibility, and therefore wasn't bothered by what I missed.

It was one of those good things that I didn't expect to find in abundance at home, and when I returned to Philadelphia, I became mired in the pho scene, leaving my Brazilian love affair to simmer. It wasn't until three years later that I was taking over the job of a Brazilian woman who, while training me, uncovered my adoration for her country's food. She recommended the place in Philadelphia's Brazilian neighborhood that all the actual Brazilians went to. I was amazed that I had lived in Philly for years without knowledge of this alleged neighborhood until she mentioned that it was in Northeast Philly, which may as well have been a different country, as far as my experience with it went.

I did a little research and found that, unless I wanted to pay a hundred dollars a plate at one of the places downtown, the closest place to get sword meat was the place recommended by my coworker. My mom and I ventured up 95 to get lunch at Picanha, named for the beef rump that so many claim as their favorite. We went with the $20 all-you-can-eat option and stuffed ourselves as our waiter continued to shave slices of meat off of a sword and onto our plates. A new experience that first time was the salad bar. I had never had South American food so different from the Mexican standards that litter Philadelphia. Lots of fresh vegetables minced into salads, potato and rice dishes, stewed meats, and a distinct tasting fish casserole complemented the array of meats. It was at Picanha that I learned the magic of hearts of palm.

Picanha, the cut and the restaurant, quickly became a favorite of ours, though its distance from our house certainly limited our motivation to head all the way up there. In early 2009, my mom planned a trip for us to visit my uncles in Rio de Janeiro. We knew we had to practice, and we suddenly had a great reason to increase our Picanha frequency. When we arrived in Brazil, we told our hosts of our feelings about Brazilian food, and our requests were indulged by our gracious hosts, leaving us overfed and sleepy in the aftermath.

Returning to Philadelphia, my mom and I had clearly killed the novelty. Even with plenty of time to kill, we wouldn't bother to make the drive to Picanha. Visits on my own dwindled to about four in the past year, and those few times only to show friends one of the best meat places in a city fraught with barbecue joints. On our way back from Guitar Center on the lazy Sunday that led to this week, Joe, Hassan, and I decided to shoot up the highway and stop in for some sword.

This was the first time I'd entered Picanha since my meat openness policy took effect, and I knew exactly which offerings I needed to try: chicken wrapped in bacon, and sausage. I grabbed a piece of picanha too, for old times sake. The meat was laid over a bed of veggies, rice, beets, and the most magical greens in the world. The guys, new to churrascaria, loved the idea. We sat at a booth, our plates piled high, as a beautiful girl came over to take our drink orders. Our table's focus suddenly shifted when we deduced that she was flirting with one of us. But who? For the moment, the mystery was less captivating than our food, and we began to chow down. Joey noted a short while later that our waitress was doing some 'deliberately close sweeping', reviving the conversation surrounding her. The volume of food with the waitress interaction thrown into the mix proved to be an overwhelming amount of stimulation. After exhausting the scenario of its comedic value, we made our way home, full and happy.

Neither the sausage nor the chicken wrapped in bacon beat any of the beef offerings. The small sausage links were overly salty to tongue not used to it. Grilling sausage often stiffens the casing and leaves the inside as soft as a hot dog, which I didn't find very pleasant. Between the texture and the saltiness, I decided once was enough.

The chicken wrapped in bacon was, after all, mostly chicken. After being grilled, the bacon had formed a partial shell around the chicken that I would have been inclined to peel off before a second serving. None of the crunchy/chewy goodness of breakfast bacon was present here. Once again, the bacon didn't do it for me.

As always, the beef was perfectly seasoned and grilled to retain its moisture. It was as good a picanha as I'd ever had and led to a personal resolution to make it up there more often. Just not for the pork.


  1. Today is national pig day

  2. once again, a beautifully written article. My mouth was watering all the while. I remembered our visits to the brazilian place in northeast philly as well as in Rio. we have to go back to Rio once again, but before that, lets go to northeast philly when i come visit you.

  3. would love to interview you and feature you in an article for sapna magazine. let us know if you are interested!

  4. You can contact me at