By Bonnie Cavanaugh
Jose and Maria Galvão, owners of Churrascaria Paladar, a white tablecloth Brazilian steakhouse on Rte. 46 on the Hackettstown border, cull the flavors of their menu from the palates of their ancestors.
The name itself roughly translates to “a small, family-run restaurant where Portuguese dishes and Brazilian-style barbecue are served,” and is truly representative of Jose, a native of Portugal, and Maria, a native of Brazil. He handles the front-of-the-house, mainly behind the gas fireplace-lit bar, tending to customers’ needs for liquid refreshment and conversation. She handles the rest, as head chef, employee trainer, and restaurant designer.
“She is the boss,” Jose Galvão smiles.
The couple purchased the former Pumphouse Grill in May 2015, and spent a year remodeling it into a quiet, chandelier-lit destination point. Maria Galvão oversaw the restaurant’s remodel and design. The renovations were sweeping, as the restaurateurs worked to achieve their preferred style while bringing the unit up to current building codes. Maria Galvão even drew up her vision, presenting it to her architect to make her dream a reality.
“Only a couple of two-by-tens remain” from the old restaurant, Jose Galvão says, laughing.
The alterations turned the venerable former eatery into a modern, welcoming respite. The bar was pushed back a few feet, and restrooms were moved beyond the dining area, with both moves creating a wider bar side dining area. The couple placed a long wooden wine rack where the old cash register used to be, opening up the entryway and bringing both sides of the dining area into view. Handicap access was added as well. The kitchen was expanded to incorporate a large churrasco grill, or barbecue spit, and the ceiling was raised throughout, giving the restaurant more natural light and an overall airiness that it did not have prior.
The couple first opened on Main Street in Hackettstown, in the space currently occupied by James On Main, spending four years there before moving to the current site for its larger space. Maria Galvão is grateful to have survived the move and to thrive—many menu items are taken from her mother’s own recipes—noting that some 80 percent of new restaurants close before their first year.
Her dishes are more Brazilian than Portuguese, though both food styles are similar. Brazilian food has rich ties to the Amazon jungle as far as produce options, like banana and yucca, and the way the barbecue is served family-style. Portuguese dishes, on the other hand, rely more on vegetables like broccoli rabe and green beans, and more heavily on fish.
“The way you present the food is the same; the entrees are the same,” Maria Galvão says. There’s really just one major difference. “The side orders are different.” Brazilians serve rice and beans—either black beans or brown, depending on the region—along with the meats, while Portuguese chefs serve potato dishes. Churrascaria Paladar offers both.
Maria Galvão has put a Brazilian or Portuguese twist on menu items taken from around Europe, and kept the dishes’ original name—albeit in her native Portuguese tongue—so that her customers know what they’re getting.
“Why change the name from scaloppini?” she says, referring to her entrée of Veal Scaloppine Pizzaiola, an Italian-inspired dish that she serves with capers, black olives and a light tomato sauce, with a side of asparagus. It’s priced at $27.95.
Likewise, her appetizers run the gamut of tastes and culinary styles. The Polvo Grelhado com Salsa Espanhola, grilled octopus with a Spanish sauce, is priced at $13.95. The Mussarela Fresca includes homemade fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted peppers, prosciutto, basil, and extra virgin olive oil, priced at $11.95. The Croquetes de Bacalhau, fried codfish croquettes, is priced at $7.95 for a half dozen and $14 for a dozen; it includes a traditional Brazilian garlic sauce for dipping.
Maria Galvão changes the menu about every eight months. She has included certified Angus beef as of mid-May. Some preferred menu ingredients are difficult to procure in the United States, she says. Traditional Brazilian barbecue includes a wide variety of meat and fish, including dried pork, dried beef, and dried codfish, which are hard to find here. It can also include lamb, which she finds many American diners don’t care for in barbecue. The restaurant also serves chorizo sausage instead of smoked Calabrese, which also can be hard to come by.
Her husband, Jose, keeps the extensive wine list up-to-date. His selections hail from around the world, including Portugal, Chile, Spain, California, Washington State, New Zealand, Argentina, and Australia. “I’ve got a little bit of everything,” he says. He has worked behind the bar of some of the area’s best restaurants over the past 30-plus years, including 12 years at Il Capriccio in Whippany.
“If you love what you are doing, life is good,” Jose Galvão says.
The most popular fare at Churrascaria Paladar is the Rodízio “preço fixo” or prix fixe menu, which refers both to the type of restaurant—a Brazilian steakhouse—as well as its style of service: all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue.
The Dinner Rodízio service is priced at $40.95 per person, and starts with a serving of Picanha, a Brazilian signature cut beef, cooked three ways: with garlic, with Parmesan cheese, or with sea salt, and served medium rare or medium, only. The next serving is Alcatra, or top sirloin, stuffed with Provolone cheese; then, Fraldinha, or skirt steak; followed by Medalhão de filé mignon, filet mignon wrapped in bacon. Next are Costela de Vaca, beef short ribs; Lombo de Porco, pork loin with Parmesan cheese; Costelinha de Porco, baby back ribs; Linguiça de Frango, Brazilian chicken sausage; Medalhão de Frango, chicken breast wrapped in bacon; Perna de Galinha, chicken drumstick; and Coração de Frango, chicken heart.
The Lunch Rodízio menu is priced at $29.95 per person, and includes just the Alcatra, Lombo de Porco, Costelinha de Porco, Linguiça de Frango, Medalhão de Frango, Perna de Galinha, and Coração de Frango.
Both lunch and dinner are served with arroz (white rice), batata frita (fresh cut potato chips), felião (black beans), banana frita (fried banana), mandioca frita (fried yucca), farofa (yucca flour), couve (sautéed collard greens), polenta (fried corn meal), and vinaigrette. The Rodízio menu can be cooked gluten free on request; the restaurant has a dedicated gluten-free fryer.
While Churrascaria Paladar officially opened in 2016, improvements have continued. An additional outdoor dining behind the restaurant features a large slate floor and a fire pit, completed in late May. New tables and chairs are on order. The restaurant still boasts lovely riverside dining on two wooden decks. They also provide live Brazilian guitar music on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The restaurateurs have just one major issue left to conquer: like much of the restaurant industry in 2018, Churrascaria Paladar is facing an ongoing, nationwide staffing shortage. The National Restaurant Association last year reported that three of every 10 restaurant operators noted difficulty in filling jobs, and, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 2016 turnover rate of 72.9 percent for the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Yet the restaurant does run smoothly with the help of family. Several nephews and other relatives of Jose Galvão serve as waiters, known as passadores: a traditional way of serving Brazilian barbecue in which servers bring knives and skewers of various cuts of meat to the table and slice to order. It’s a skill the Galvãos are willing to teach.
Churrascaria Paladar is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for dinner Tuesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The dinner menu is also served during weekends, on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are accepted.