When you have lived in Chicago, Illinois, for eighteen years, there are a few things that you do not take for granted. The traffic is not easy on those of us who drive manual shift cars. You really do not need a car living in the city proper. People go on red and stop on green. The temperatures do not warm up until mid to late June, albeit there will be a few days of teasingly warm temperatures between February and May. It’s the latter that makes me hanker for being able to split my time between Chicago during the warmer months and Brazil during the rest of the year. I can dream, though. And I can also go to one of several Brazilian restaurants in the city when I need something to put me in the mind of being in a warmer climate like that of Brazil. And on a certain frosty evening after work, I met up with a friend in Chicago’s Lakeview at Brazilian Bowl at 3204 N. Broadway. Well, since I can’t get to Brazil the way I would like, the alternative is accepting the fact that a bit of Brazil has come to Chicago.
Brazilian Bowl is a relatively small cafe that has a few high tables and a lot of character as far as the Lakeview scene goes. I had gone twice in 2012 shortly after the cafe had opened. They were still in the throes of finding their place. Many kinks had to be ironed out and with crowds pouring it, I am sure they were biting down really hard while having to entertain long lines of customers heaving exaggerated sighs. Much has settled since and it was time to return for another sampling of something traditional. For me, I ordered a Brazilian lemonade, a coxinha, and a feijoada. My friend ordered a steak bowl and a flan.
Japanese do it well. Mongolians do it well. Koreans do it incredibly well. Now, it is apparent that Brazilians do it equally well. The steak bowl is not just some concoction thrown into a bowl as though someone is coming up with their own version of goulash. My friend had commented briefly that it was doing the trick and after seeing that he had polished the whole dish off with very little conversation, I was not going to argue with his assessment. Steak, corn, carrots, mushrooms, cheese, and rice joined forces to do their wicked bidding on his taste buds and he smiled. And I knew there certainly was no denying that the flan he had bought was worthy of the comment, “Oh, wow, ‘this’ is really, really good.” The steak bowl and the flan will be two items that I will have to be certain to add to my list when I return.
As for me, I had ordered two of the more well-known traditional dishes — coxinha and feijoada. The coxinha was a huge tear drop pastry filled with chicken, corn, and some spices that went over very well. This falls more in line with street food, such that you can walk around with it and eat it from your hands, no utensils required. The feijoada was a bowl of rice, black beans, sausage, ham hocks, and greens mineira style was worthy. After a few scoops of the feijoada, it was quite clear that Brazilian Bowl is the second Brazilian cafe in Chicago to prepare the dish the way that I remember from my trip to Salvador Bahia. There was a lot more authenticity in the flavouring than what I have had in some small Brazilian cafes scattered throughout the United States. The Brazilian lemonade was, hands-down, the real thing. It’s not a failed attempt and fancy packaging. Only at Taste of Brasil have I had it authentically and now Brazilian Bowl matches the wow in the flavour exactly. The balance of tart and sweetness as well as the creamy consistency tell it all.
There are two other Brazilian restaurants in Chicago that I love to frequent — Taste of Brasil and Sabor Express. After the most recent visit to Brazilian Bowl and seeing that they have settled into a fantastic routine, I now can say that there is a third Brazilian cafe that I will frequent. I love the big box eateries like Fogo de Chão, Texas de Brazil, Sal y Carvao, Brazzaz, and the like, but there are times when you want something that puts you in the streets and along the beaches where the flavours reach out to you and tempt you to try what’s being prepared for your culinary delight. Hmm. Maybe sticking it out through the cold temperatures in Chicago isn’t so bad. Yes, I can dream of being in Brazil where it’s warm. Some delicious food from Brazilian Bowl will help me have clearer visions when I do start to dream.