Rio’s Steak House
318 Court St., Plymouth
Hours: Sunday- through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Like many other health-conscious families, we don’t eat a lot of red meat in our house. And we like to save our red meat allowance for something pretty special — no meatloaf for us.
Rodizio at Rio’s Steak House was a worthy splurge. There is no menu. In the Brazilian tradition of churrasco, or barbecue, a server brings skewers of grilled meat to the table, slicing off portions for each diner. Part of every place setting is a little pair of tongs. As the server starts to slice the meat, you grab it with tongs, then he slices it through.
The concept of rodizio, owner Vagmar Stoffel told us, emphasizes the idea of “moving around” a gathering of guests, offering different cuts of meat. The rest of the meal comes from the selections at the large buffet of fresh vegetables, fruit, salads, rice, beans, and pasta.
The restaurant, which opened in October, is in a residential area, away from Plymouth’s busy tourist hub. The dining room is simple but warm, with dark red walls, tables covered with checkered oilcloth, and soft-yellow pendant lamps.
We started with Rio’s take on the Brazilian cocktail caipirinha, which was sweet and tart at the same time. While this drink is typically made with cachaça, a Brazilian liquor made from sugar cane, Rio’s is using vodka for now, according to the bartender. She said the restaurant has applied for a liquor license that will permit it to serve the higher-alcohol cachaça. The restaurant also serves beer and wine, including sangria.
The buffet is neat, appetizing, and well lighted, with most foods labeled. Vegetables such as asparagus and green beans were fresh and cooked just until tender. We especially liked the tangy Caesar salad and, on the hot side, a creamy bowtie pasta with shrimp and yellow rice with beans. On a weekend, there can be nearly 30 choices at the buffet.
But the main attraction is the meat. We began with bacon-wrapped beef, which the server slid effortlessly off long metal skewers onto our plates. A Rio’s “signature item,” it was juicy and flavorful. Next came puffy rounds of garlic bread. Flank steak was tender, and sirloin was excellent — juicy with a nice, salt-rubbed crust.
Everything was piping hot, yet moist; it was clear that items were brought directly from the grill to the table, not left sitting under a warming lamp. Our server also brought crispy chicken wings and chicken wrapped in bacon, which had a nice, smoky flavor but couldn’t compete with the sirloin for taste.
One of our favorite selections was whole pineapple, cooked on a rotisserie and rubbed with sugar and cinnamon that made a crunchy, caramelized coating.
The pacing was pleasant. We had enough time to savor each item before the next arrived, but we were never short on food. Stoffel said he plans to introduce a system of red and green coasters on the tables to let servers know whether diners are ready for more meat (showing green) or taking a break (showing red).
All the meat is grilled over a charcoal grill from Brazil, said Stoffel. The idea is to make frequent visits to the table, offering small portions each time, to keep everything hot. On weekends, he said, they grill more types of meat, such as lamb, kielbasa, and pork loin. Very little is added to the meat in terms of flavoring or spices; the restaurant’s philosophy is to let the grilling method sear in the natural flavors.
For dessert, we shared a terrific house-made flan ($5), a traditional Brazilian dessert similar to custard. The large serving was creamy and firm, and the caramelized topping was satisfyingly sweet.
Buffet and rodizio are $16 for lunch on weekdays and $20 for weekend lunch and all dinners; children’s rodizio is $7. With a buffet-only option at $13, Rio’s provides a satisfying meal for vegetarians and carnivores alike.