Gonzalez’s grill is one thing of an olfactory magnet. The Brazilian native tells me that typically drivers will likely be idling close to the intersection and all of a sudden discover themselves getting hungry. “A lot of people come and say, ‘Man, I was stopped at the traffic light and I could smell it. I saw the smoke, and I had to come try it.’”
My introduction to Fire Pit got here not from smoke alerts alongside the Pike, however from a textual content from Rudy Zamora-Herrera, the chef and proprietor of El Papi Real Street Tacos in Camp Springs, Md. For these without a stable grasp of Maryland geography, Camp Springs is a lengthy manner from Rockville. I’d later study that Zamora-Herrera was engaged on a second location in Pike Kitchen and making runs to Rockville on the common, sometimes catching glimpses of the Fire Pit truck throughout his drives. He, like others earlier than him, lastly couldn’t resist.
Zamora-Herrera despatched me photographs of his go to, together with a shot of Gonzalez at the grill, the wooden smoke so thick I may barely see the gaucho’s face. Zamora-Herrera then despatched me an image of his unfold: containers of beef ribs, black beans, white rice and these morsels of sirloin cap, referred to as picanha, with an outer layer of semi-rendered fats that helps hold the meat moist and flavorful. If I may have transported myself to Rockville that instantaneous, I’d have.
My first go to to Fire Pit, nevertheless, wouldn’t happen till almost two months later, on a scorchingly scorching day in July, when the mercury was just some levels brief of the century mark. It was the form of day when nobody ought to be standing over glowing coals, not to mention surrounded by the urban heat islands of Rockville Pike, which cut back all residing creatures to puddles of water. But there Gonzalez was, tending meats and counting on a single fan in the outside nook of his truck to maintain him cool — and to maintain the flies at bay. The man is aware of find out how to endure for his craft.
His explicit craft is southern Brazilian churrasco, a mode of barbecue that focuses on picanha, a reduce extra frequent to Brazil than to the United States. The reduce’s very identify tells you one thing: Translated into English, picanha means “rump steak” or “rump cap,” carved from the hind finish of the steer. Picanha boasts a thick fats cap, which Gonzalez trims earlier than searing the entire reduce on the grill to present it a superb crust. He’ll slice the picanha, then throw the bite-size parts right into a grill basket. If you don’t inform him what temperature you want, you’ll get your picanha medium.
I received my picanha medium, if solely as a result of I didn’t understand I had the choice to request the meat a shade or two pinker. No matter. Seasoned with solely coarse sea salt — and I do imply coarse — the Black Angus beef depends by itself meatiness, supplemented with smoke, to seduce you. Crusty, juicy and chewy in all the proper methods, the picanha may be dipped right into a mayo-based pit sauce, however I not often took benefit of the condiment. The meat, like Texas barbecue, doesn’t want it. The sauce, actually, detracts from the elemental nature of picanha. Every ingredient and each approach issues right here: the meat, the trimming, the salt, the charcoal, the grill methodology. Gonzalez nails all of it.
It most likely gained’t shock you to study Gonzalez hails from Porto Alegre, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and the similar metropolis the place Fogo de Chão opened its first restaurant. This is not any coincidence. Rio Grande do Sul is the place the hardscrabble gaucho traditions of previous centuries have been reworked and elevated into an identification. Gonzalez grew up with gaucho tradition and churrasco. They are, as he tells me, half of his DNA. He and his mother, Gladis Leorato, moved to the D.C. space about 20 years in the past, after she went via a troublesome divorce. Gonzalez was simply 14 years previous, and he rapidly discovered work in garden care. He ultimately opened his personal landscaping enterprise.
But he by no means stopped serious about Brazilian barbecue, or opening a store of his personal. Finally, final yr, he set about fulfilling this dream, with the assist of his mother and his spouse, Fabiana Redondo Gonzalez. He had a rig custom-built in Texas; secured the permits; and located an excellent spot in the Golden Arcade Shopping Center, the place the solely different restaurant is Yuan Fu Vegetarian, which apparently doesn’t view Fire Pit as a mortal enemy disfigured by its personal lust for animal proteins. The two companies have one thing of a complementary relationship, Gonzalez says. Sometimes when a automobile pulls up, half the passengers will head to Yuan Fu, the different half to Fire Pit.
You’ll normally discover Leorato working the entrance window at the truck. She’ll take your order; her son will put together it. The menu at Fire Pit is brief, candy and easy. There are 4 meat choices: pork ribs, brief ribs, hen and picanha, all of which you’ll order recent from the grill or have slipped into an eight-inch Italian sub roll with melted mozzarella, arugula, pit sauce and chopped greens drizzled with French dressing. The smokiness of the meat is forceful sufficient to chop via the fats and acid of the sandwich’s condiments and garnishes, which do what they’re presupposed to do: add depth and distinction to the most important ingredient, not detract from it.
But fact be instructed, I choose the barbecue straight. Like the picanha, the beef brief ribs are seasoned solely with coarse sea salt, however not like the sirloin cap, the bones are first cooked for hours in a commissary smoker, which Gonzalez constructed himself, earlier than they’re completed over charcoal on the truck. The brief ribs are designed for many who respect the pleasures of the flesh: With the bones eliminated, the beef pulls aside in thick, gooey strands, as the meat, salt, fats and smoke meld into one thing better than the part components.
The hen and pork ribs are marinated earlier than hitting the grill, and as such, they land with extra power and refinement than the grilled beef. The hen and I, particularly, have develop into quick associates. I like the manner its two-bite items, the dry spices nonetheless clinging to the flesh, complement the smoke with extra assertive notes, together with garlic and onion powders. I may eat that hen every day with Gonzalez’s sides of white jasmine rice or black beans, every scented with the light pungency of garlic. I’ve even developed a style for that Brazilian favourite farofa, a dish of toasted cassava flour whose sandy consistency wants each final molecule of rendered bacon fats.
Less than a yr into his new enterprise, Gonzalez is already planning a second location at the forthcoming Solaire Social food hall in downtown Silver Spring. And why not? His model of churrasco aligns higher with trendy life than these expensive Brazilian steakhouses and their countless parades of all-you-can-eat meat. Fire Pit is informal. It’s inexpensive. It doesn’t dare you to eat like a Sixteenth-century royal.
Fire Pit Brazilian Barbecue
804 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md.; 301-789-8709. Order on-line at toasttab.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday via Saturday.
Prices: $1 to $16.90 for all gadgets on the menu. Meats can be ordered by the pound.