I really need only five words to adequately describe Nelore: meat, meat, meat, meat, meat.
But perhaps a few more are in order.
Nelore is a churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse that features grilled meats served tableside. We’ve had churrascarias in Central Florida for years, but they’ve all been located in the International Drive tourist corridor. Indeed, Nelore was on I-Drive until a few months ago. But in a first for the area, Nelore has left Tourist World and moved to Winter Park, in the Park Avenue dining district, of all places.
The churrascaria concept is a tough sell for the sophisticated gourmet crowd. It is, after all, an all-you-can-eat scheme. And even though it features servers who bring the main courses to your table, it starts with a salad bar that requires diners to queue up and serve themselves. A salad bar hasn’t been associated with fine dining for quite some time.
But Nelore is definitely fine dining. And what makes it so is the quality of the food, beginning with that salad bar.
Actually it goes far beyond mere salads. Yes, there are myriad greens to pile on your plate, and most of the usual accouterments to pile on top of the greens. But you’ll also find taboule, asparagus and grilled portobello mushrooms, as well as an assortment of cheeses, salmon, and shrimp. And roasted peppers and hearts of palm. And hot items, such as black beans and rice, ground yuca, pasta and mashed potatoes.
You can go back to the salad bar as often as you like, but you’re crazy to do so. You’re going to want room for the parade of meats that is about to begin.
Here’s how it works. Diners are given a little disk to put next to their plates. One side is green and the other side is red. Green, go; red, stop. As long as the green side is facing up, the servers will offer you meats. When you’ve had enough, or just need a breather, turn the red side up.
The servers are officially known as gauchos, the term for South American cowboys, but they’re also dressed in the pantaloons known by that name. Probably not a coincidence. There is a certain skill for proper churrascaria service. The meats are on big skewers that the gauchos carry throughout the dining room. Seeing green disks, they will ask if you’d like the particular meat they’re carrying. If so, they put a special tray on the table designed to secure the end of the skewer and keep it from sliding. The gaucho then slices the meat.
Each guest also has a small pair of tongs. As the gaucho slices the meat, the guest grabs a corner and keeps it from falling to the table. Some items, such as sausages and chicken drumsticks, don’t require slicing. In those cases the gaucho slides the meat from the skewer directly onto the plate of the diner, but always careful not to touch the tip of the skewer to the plate, because sanitation is key.
Nelore boasts an array of 15 meats, including lamb chops, filet mignon, flank steak, beef ribs, parmesan crusted pork, rump roast, top sirloin and shrimp, as well as the aforementioned sausages and chicken. My favorites were the flank steak, which was oh so tender, juicy and perfectly cooked, and the parmesan crusted pork, which had terrific flavor.
Nelore occupies the space just east of Park Avenue on Lyman Avenue where Allegria used to be. It has been remodeled beautifully and features pristine white walls, a wood-look tile floor and chandeliers of wrought iron that resemble twisted branding irons.
The highlight of the renovation is the front wall, which basically doesn’t exist. Well, what I mean is that it now opens completely so that the restaurant is essentially open to the street. It’s a terrific atmosphere, even for those who just want to come in and have a drink at the bar just inside the front door -- if there were a door.
By the way, if you do stop in for a cocktail, be sure to try the caipirinha -- it’s wonderful.
All the folks at Nelore are friendly and accommodating. Before my recent dinner I had stopped by just to see the place. A young man greeted me and my friend and insisted we come in and look over the salad bar, giving us a “tour” of the items they were offering that evening and inviting us to come back when we could dine.
Nelore joins the Park Avenue pantheon of restaurants and adds to its growing international flavor.
Nelore is at 115 Lyman Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily, however lunch does not include the “meat runners.” Instead, the salad bar is available for $9.95 and plates of meat can be purchased for $5-$10. The evening full experience is $37.95. The phone number is 407-645-1112. Or reservations through Opentable. Click here for Nelore's Web site.