Shutao Wang, owner of Brasilia Churrasco Steakhouse of Spartanburg, S.C., will open a second location in downtown Asheville any day now thanks to some word-of-mouth promotion from traveling Ashevilleans. “We were debating between Charleston, Charlotte and Asheville,” says Wang. “Asheville people would come into my Spartanburg restaurant talking about how great their city is.” Wang says he used to associate Asheville with the Biltmore House, but once he started visiting for business purposes, he discovered how much more there is. “I really like the people,” Wang says.
Wang was in the Army stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina when he met a friend who owned a Brazilian restaurant there. Wang had experience at his family’s sushi restaurants in Houston, and he loved the idea of doing a table service where they could “make sushi in front of people,” but tableside sushi just wasn’t practical. His friend’s Brazilian restaurant featured servers called “gauchos,” who came to the table carving freshly grilled meats off skewers. Wang was hooked. “I love that it’s a social restaurant; people can move around,” he says.
People will have plenty of room to move around at 26 E. Walnut St. (formerly Magnolia’s Raw Bar and Grille). The huge, open dining area seats about 200. There is also a separate room for private parties that seats about 40. Wang was attracted to this location across from the Asheville Community Theatre not only because of its exposure to theatergoers, but also because of its size. Space is important for this style of restaurant, which requires all tables (no booths), so the gauchos don’t have to lean over people to serve them. The west and north walls of the structure are floor-to-ceiling windows, which give it an open and airy feel. The high ceilings, central salad bar and long bar structure across the east wall complete the layout.
The Brazilian concept is a buffet-style salad bar and a selection of grilled meats; diners can choose salad bar only, or both, for a fixed price. “Ninety percent of the food here is gluten-free,” Wang says. “There are no fried items, and everything is prepared fresh daily.” The restaurant uses sea salt and natural seasonings. Whenever possible Wang plans to go local for produce and meat, and he even carries Biltmore wines. Bottled beers, including one Brazilian brand, will be offered.
There will be 25 items on the salad bar, all made in-house. Vegetarians will appreciate the Brazilian rice and black beans, handmade mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy and broccoli with alfredo sauce, which accompany the many cold veggies at the salad bar. The salad bar will also have cocktail shrimp, chicken salad and smoked salmon.
Sixteen different grill items will be offered nightly. The signature house specialty is picanha, a Brazilian cut of beef Wang describes as being between the round and the sirloin. He says it’s especially flavorful when grilled. Additionally, the restaurant will offer leg of lamb, two kinds of Brazilian sausage, rib-eye and top sirloin. Another signature grill item will be cinnamon pineapple.
Wang may soon have some competition coming to South Asheville. Rio de Brazil, a Charleston, S.C.-based chain, is set to open on Hendersonville Road at some point, although according to manager Andrea Vasquez, no details are available yet and its Facebook page says it is still under construction. The Rio de Brazil Steakhouse website describes the eatery as “a unique, all-you-can-eat ‘Churrascaria’ featuring a full salad bar with over 35 items, Brazilian hot dishes and a ‘parade’ of different types of meats sliced at your table by our gauchos.”
Wang is excited about the restaurant community in Asheville and is applying for membership in the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association. He has also made another big decision: “I love the city, and I’m going to move here.”
Brasilia Churrasco will be open seven nights a week for dinner, with lunch served on the weekends. 26 E Walnut St. 832-335-3611 brasiliasteakhouse.com
Stay abreast of Rio de Brazil at riodebrazil.com or https://www.facebook.com/riodebrazilcharleston
UPDATE: Brasilia Churrasco will open Saturday, March 22. Hours will be 5-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-? Fridays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4 p.m.-? Saturdays, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Sundays.