Where do I begin with my recent experience at the new and hip BBQ joint known as Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse, or just Pampa for short. Do I start with the open, strikingly simple yet beautiful space? Or maybe I talk about the giant wall of wine that could just as easily dent your wallet, as rid you of any inhibitions. And if I’m talking about walls, what about the wall of meat that is dripping seductive droplets of juice over coals of hot charcoal. No matter where I begin, I think it’s safe to say that this experience is unlike anything else in town.
The concept is actually quite simple. Everyone pays $45 (lunch is ½ price). “Grill Masters” wander around with giant swords of meat, ready to slice away if you have a green token (or pass if it’s red), while you have unlimited access to the salad bar. The meat is cooked over charcoal that is imported from South America, and is reminiscent of rotisserie style cooking that many are familiar with here; however, the name for this cooking style, churrasco, may not be. And while this is a first for Edmonton, you may have experienced something similar in Calgary where they have two rodizio restaurants. Our version, run by Oscar Mauricio Lopez, opened up earlier this year and also happened to be part of the Food Network show, The Opener, with the infamous David Adjey.
With our reservation of 8 in the back room, I was quite surprised at how big this restaurant is. The space is huge! As we entered the back area, we noticed two very large groups (think 15-30); this is definitely a place to consider for large meat eating endeavors and celebrations. After our wait staff’s initial spiel was complete, we headed to the main room for a look around the cold table. The 50+ items have something for everyone; breads, pastas, couscous, quinoa, fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, olives, salads, and so on. So if you think you’ll be stuck with just meat, you are wrong. As well, if I remember correctly, everything on this table is fresh, never frozen, and made in house. I have to say, it was a pretty solid addition to the meat smorg ahead. With our plates decorated with options, we went back and flipped our cards from red to green. Time for MEAT!
We were told of 10 selections that would be brought around on this evening; Pork Sausage (house made), Parmesan-Crusted Pork Loin, Chicken Drumsticks, Chicken Thighs Wrapped in Bacon, Picanha (top sirloin) – Pampa’s signature cut, Garlic Picanha (we never saw this), Bottom Sirloin from Spring Creek Ranch, Beef Ribs – slow roasted for 6 hours, Ribeye, Leg of Lamb, and Chicken Hearts. The winners for me were the chunks of chicken, sausage, and ribeye. All of those items were packed with flavour and cooked to perfection. Although I think it’d be pretty darn hard to overcook dark chicken meat that’s wrapped in bacon. The meat for the most part is just seasoned with salt. This sounds great, but with the exterior already removed on most options, I wish they would have included a small dish of sea/kosher salt on the table. As much as it hurts me to say, I found many of the piece rather boring; sometimes even a great cut of meat needs a little something. And before I forget, don’t miss out on the chicken hearts (yummy!). The service was spotty at times which meant inconsistent meat delivery. It was a steady flow at first, but slowed considerably and it felt like on many occasions we had to ask 2 or 3 times for a grill master to return with a cut of our choice; for example, our request for the pork to be brought back took a good 10-15 minutes. As well, you can imagine with the giant knife that a few pieces of meat ended up bouncing off the table and some sausage even hit the floor after an errant cut by the grill master.
Desserts included a special treat for the tables birthday boy. Delivered by Oscar himself, he told that this cake isn’t available for order and is just for celebratory occasions like this. It was heavy and sweet with a rich coconut flavour. A great secret item I must say. The rest of the options were noticeably light, which I imagine is a really good choice after stuffing yourself with heavy proteins, and were all very good. The chocolate mousse was probably my favourite, as the candied orange slice and sweet sae made for a simple, clean finish. It’s nice to see they take the rest of their menu almost as seriously as their meat.
The overall experience was mixed. I’d heard such amazing things that I thought I might find myself in meat nirvana. Unfortunately the lack of depth on many of the meat options brought me right back down to earth. Don’t get me wrong, meat cooked over charcoal is good, but I wouldn’t go in thinking this isn’t something you couldn’t do at home over the BBQ. I commend the team for deciding to purchase some of their meat locally, while also preparing their sides in house. You can tell that Oscar spent a lot of money on Pampa, and I think that it’s most definitely worth a visit. After all, it’s one thing to conquer the crappy meat at your everyday AYCE restaurant, and a completely different thing to relax with friends in a great atmosphere, while treating yourself to something worth eating.