After my slightly critical story about Annie’s Burger Shack here in Nottingham (click here for that story) , I figured I’d also write a positive story about burgers. Who knows, it might give Annie some ideas…
A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to go to Sao Paulo, Brazil, with Mrs Urban Wildman, who had to go there for work. I can write a lot about Sao Paulo but will probably do so in a different post. Let me just say for now that it is huge, an eye-opener and has got some of the best food on the planet!
We were staying in the Pinheiros district of the city, famous for its bohemian character, with Vila Madalena as the culmination in urban cool. think tight trousers, craft beer, beards and loads of tattoos. Now, I like beer, have a beard and tattoos but have never felt more outclassed in all of them as in Sao Paulo!
In the area, around the corner from the hotel, we were recommended to go to a burger place. Initially we were skeptical, I mean burgers, really? But we decided to go anyway and OMG, what a place!
The place was called the Underdog Meat and Beers (address R. João Moura, 541 – Pinheiros, São Paulo – SP, 05412-001, Brazil) and the story was that the owner spent a couple of years down in Argentina, mastering the art of the “Asado”, the South American way of barbecue.
Traditionally an asado consists of an open fire with huge cuts of meat around it on sticks or poles. How far or close to the fire the meat is, determines the cooking and to stop the meat from drying out, you baste it with its own juices as you catch them dripping down. You cut pieces of these huge chunks of meat as they are cooked and dip them in chimichurri sauce, a sauce of chopped parsley, dried oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, onion, and paprika with olive oil. Nowadays, you can also create an asado a la parilla, whereby you create the fire, let it die down into embers and place a grill over the top for grilling the meats.
The Underdog is probably the smallest restaurant I have ever visited, it is tiny! Looking in, there is a bar dividing the space in two halves lengthways, from which the drinks are served. This is also where the only indoor seats are, there are about 6 bar stools for punters and you can just about squeeze past behind them to find the toilets in the back. Behind the bar is also the asado, where the magic happens. They don’t do anything fancy here, but what they do is very, very good. The beer is very nice, with a lot of US IPA’s (Shipyard Brewery’s Monkeyfist was very good) and because it is Sao Paulo, you sit outside, in tables in the street. They have about 5-6 high tables right outside the restaurant where you can sit on bar stools or, if you wait until after the business next door closes, you can find one of the 9 or so tables in the little patio there.
The guys that work there are really cool, speak amazing English and will often just come up to your table for a chat. It feels more like a youth or friend’s party than a restaurant and you are made to feel very welcome. Don’t pretend to be too polite, the guys will introduce themselves (not in the US way but just as somebody at a party or so) and if you need something, you just call them over and place your order.
The menu is small, divided into starters, burgers and mains. Don’t expect any vegetables or vegetarian options here, it does what it says on the door: meat. By far the best starter we found was the “Choripan”; a hotdog with a barbecue-ed chorizo and chimichurri. This was recommended to us by the guys as one of the best-sellers and after we had it once, we ordered it every time we went. The sausage was juicy, smoky and spicy, the chimichurri added a nice note of freshness to it and the bread served to keep your fingers relatively clean whilst soaking up all these great juices.
The burgers are a pure beef affair, grilled to medium-rare perfection (remember to tell them if you want it done more well-done but I wouldn’t know why) and the options menu then allows you to choose your accompaniments, be it cheddar or blue cheese, jalapenos, onions, mushrooms, sour cream or bacon. This allows you to create your perfect burger without taking away from the bbq perfection of the high-quality meat (Annie, take heed!).
The meats are, again, great quality beef allowed to speak for themselves. They are all barbecue-ed and served with chimichurri sauce, surrounded by pieces of bread to keep (most of) the juices on the wooden board (shaped like a coffin-lid). We had the skirt steak, which was juicy and had a great bite, without being chewy.
They do other cuts too, like fillet, shoulder or sirloin or even sausages and they all come the same way; just the meat with a little bread, no vegetables.
After the meat-fest (and copious amounts of Monkeyfist) we were very glad that it was only a short walk back to the hotel, we were stuffed! But, having been there a couple of times now, even if we were on the other side of a 28 million people metropolis like Sao Paulo, any detour would be worth it. I’m even wondering if flying out on Friday night, going there for dinner on Saturday and flying back to the UK on Sunday can somehow be justified.
The choripan, the burgers, the meats, the beer, the company, the atmosphere – it really was that good.
So, for all these burger places back here in the UK, take a trip, pay the Underdog a visit and see how your business can (and should) be run. Nothing too fancy, just a wood fire, great quality meat and some beers, what more does one need.