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Playing the Market

Twice a month I play the market. It's a lot of pressure, but I think with practice I am getting better. 


Biweekly Rounds

I've entered that stage of work where networking lunches become important. I assist with the Jacksonville Lawyers Roundtable and attend the Jacksonville Business Professionals member lunch. It's only a tiny slice of the lunch networking pie as my boss has at least 3 lunch meetings a week, and sometimes breakfast and happy hour as well. 


So on these event days, we head out to the Fogo de Chão in Town Center. Hilary books the reservations, and we show up hungry.  

Brazilian Steakhouse

Normally, people come to these restaurants for the meat service. It's an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord that includes pork, lamb, steak, chicken, bacon-wrapped this, and a bunch of other cuts of meat cooked just so. The gauchos present the freshly prepared meat on a stick and slice off the succulent cuts. bit and bit. 

But I skip the Frango and Picanhas and stick to the feast offered by the Market Table.

Perfect Pairings?

The Market Table

For these events, I explore the oh-so-fancy buffet of salads, dishes, cheeses, cold cuts, fruit, veggies and more. It's an oval buffet where you line up and serve yourself. There's one other portion of the buffet that has bacon, bread, and soups. It's easy to miss this table, as it can look like merely the place where the clean plates are stored. But if so, you are choosing poorly. 

Mission Objectives

  • To get enough food

  • To not have too much food

  • To pick dishes that are tasty 

  • To not waste food

  • To vary your choices on each visit

  • To be a tiny bit healthy

  • To have plenty of items to sample during the meeting

  • To win

I am trying to win. I am trying to pick just the right items to have the perfect meal. I am trying to capitalize on this onslaught of decisions and not have buyer's (or eater's) remorse. There's no formula for this kind of decision-making. The entire rest of your workday afternoon depends on making good choices. You don't want to be tired, lagging after too large a meal. You don't want to be hungry one hour later. You don't want to be bored by picking the same old basics. There is a lot a steak. 

Seasonal Favorites

The first time I tried butternut squash soup was at Luma on Park Avenue, for their Christmas party. And now, whenever it's fall enough at Fogo, I help myself to a hefty soup serving.

200+ Decisions

The crazy part is all the decisions you have to make in one round of the feasting table. There will be a line of people before and after you. You have to choose the dishes, choose the quantity, make room on your plate and make sure that the food items match. If it's not complementary then you will end up chewing on garlic, noodles salad and pickled asparagus, one bit after the next. That is choosing poorly. You can't strategize by food group. The items are a bit scattered and not totally arranged by category. Your first challenge will be the cheese corner.

Skip Right to Bread & Butter

Let's leave those side dishes to the servers and get back to the offerings of the market table. There is a sneaky side table that holds all of those empty, inviting blank plates just waiting to be occupied. Walk past 4 towers of empty plates and be sure to grab one. Right beyond the plates, you will see large baskets of fairly basic-looking bread. But. It. Is. Not. This is not basic bread. I usually take two. Maybe one day I took three. Then I grab one to two golden packets of butter.


If I'm being honest, this is my favorite part of the entire experience. (Now if I am doing the full churrasco experience, this probably ties with the top sirloin and bacon-wrapped pork). My entire meal might vary slightly in seasoning, freshness and flavor, but the sliced bread never lets me down. Sorry Panera's sourdough, Carrabba's Italian bread, and those honey rolls that used to come with meals at Hops (RIP). This bread is sensational. 

About the Cheese Bread

For the longest time, my favorite food on my Fogo visits was bread. There are these little black bowls of magical cheese rolls they sprinkle periodically across the table. Their official name is PÃO DE QUEIJO, which is Portuguese for bread of cheese essentially. These magical rolls don't taste overwhelmingly cheese, but a bit airy and like fresh dough. Fogo actually provides the cheese bread recipe for adventurous bakers to attempt. I have not attempted it yet, but I've never tried to buy yucca flour before. I would always snack on these before my meal and after. I didn't even have to undergo the pressure of picking them at the market table, as they are presented by the server. 

The pao de queijo (cheesy soft bread) is part of the shareable side dishes that are part of the charrasco experience (yet fortunately included in the market table. The other side dishes consist of mash potatoes (tasty, but these get cold quickly), plantains (which look unappetizingly mushy, and polenta (which has a simple flavor that doesn't compete with the dishes gifted to us by the market table. These curious add-ons can feel a bit like the universe laughing at you and daring you to eat one spoonful more. 


Candied Bacon

There's not much in life that is quite like Black Pepper Candied Bacon. It's spicy. It's sweet. It's savory. It melts in your mouth. 

Right next to the wonderful bread, are the piles and piles of bacon. Imagine the baklava pyramids in Aladdin. It's like that. But pork. If you hover for a moment to pick your piece, glance at your neighbor to hint you need a moment to be judicious. 


You can choose from pieces that are dark brown and crispy or undercooked slices with soft, chewy fat. Consider, perhaps, a slice that had a bit of both. You can also pick ones with lots of seasoning caked on to really dig into the sweetness. Occasionally you will bite right into a clump of black pepper and find it to be intensely spicy. 

A word of warning, if you have too much of this (anything more than two for the average bear), your stomach will certainly be hurting after.

My Mains

My first staple was the shredded chicken salad because l'm a meat eater. A generous portion of this had me thinking I was getting the meat service. Slowly, I portioned other favorites on my plate. The street corn dish is really good and my excuse for having a vegetable. The potato salad is flavorful and fresh, but too easy to fill up on. There's an apple salad that is good to get the tiniest portion. Take some Manchego, Guoda, and Feta bites.

The go-to-goods include a bit of arugula, tomato and mozzarella, and hummus. The green basil sauce is good but don't have too much. Beware the sauces.

What NOT to do

Don't bother with the rice and beans. Even with the charming dishes of toppings, this straightforward dish just doesn't compare to the tantalizing tastes of the market table. 

Approach the marinated vegetables with caution. Broccoli, artichoke, zuchinni, and asparagus taste very different when chilled. 

Skip the baked garlic. SEE: taste versus tummy ache trade-off.

Go light on the cheese. The soft cheeses are exciting. The cold-cut meats are not that thrilling. Except the prosciutto. That's a recent favorite dish of mine (this transcends Fogo and applies to family dinners too). 

These salads are fine but truly take up plate real estate. They only serve the best arugula salad seasonally. Just when I discovered I liked this, they changed it up. And then added a crazy-looking salad with black noodles.


My husband told me he was headed to Fogo for a holiday lunch, so here is the short version, the notes I gave him.

Do go hard on the candied bacon. Don't try the chilled vegetables. Do grab 2 cheeses and 2 salamis. Don't try the black noodle salad. Do sample the salmon if you swing that way. Don't skip the cider samples by the door. Do sample the holiday drink with alcohol by the door. Don't get a very big salad, cuz save room for meat. Do sample the chicken salad because it is meat. Don't get mozzarella slices that are too big. Do try the butternut squash soup if you have time to kill. Don't try rice and beans because you are at a steakhouse; that's just wrong. Do grab a pineapple slice for dessert. Don't eat the plantains, they look too mushy. Do eat the table mashed taters before they get cold. Don't skip the table rolls; they are bomb.

Parting Words

I was recently introduced to Sweety Peppers. These dynamic red morsels are very fun. It's like those Fourth of July snappers going off in your mouth. In a good way. 

The greatest dessert after all of this feasting is one of nature's treats: fresh pineapple. It might be messy and leave juice on an otherwise spotless blaser, but it is still worth it. 

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