Can't afford a trip to Rio de Janeiro? That's OK — me neither. Fortunately, Rodizio Grill will be serving authentic Brazilian cuisine closer to home beginning Wednesday at the former site of Bob Evans, 2805 Lehigh St. in Allentown. Can you afford a trip to Allentown? Don't answer that.
The chain restaurant, which bills itself as America's first Brazilian steakhouse, offers two menu options: unlimited salad bar (includes unlimited appetizers) and the Full Rodizio (includes unlimited salad bar, appetizers and rotisserie grilled meats).
The salad bar features staples such as potato salad and unusual items such as marinated quail eggs. Appetizers include cinnamon-glazed bananas, Brazilian corn meal and bread made with yucca flour and cheese. The meats — beef, pork, chicken and lamb — are cut thin for tenderness and flavor. A wide array of items are gluten-free and are noted as such on the menu. Homemade desserts include caramel flan and lime pie.
The establishment features a bar that can seat approximately 10 patrons, as well as private dining for up to 100.
Kevin O'Leary, who co-owns the restaurant with Charlie La Rosa, says diners should be prepared for an interactive experience. "Gauchos, dressed in cowboy attire, will carve meats table-side," says O'Leary, a resident of Franconia Township. "A cue card will notify them if you're in need of more food — red signifying 'no' and green signifying 'yes.'"
O'Leary and La Rosa, who also co-own Bethlehem's Melting Pot and three Melting Pots in the Philadelphia area, are excited to venture into the arena of Brazilian fare. "We thought that we'd switch things up and bring the first Rodzio Grill to Pennsylvania," O'Leary said.
The restaurant chain, established in 1995, has 13 other locations nationwide. Info: 610-351-2900 or rodiziogrill.com.
Another Allentown restaurant also is set to debut this week. Stratus Restaurant & Nightlife will open Friday at the former site of Mezza Luna Sports Bar & Grill at 1179 Airport Road. Senior General Manager Natalie Miller says the new establishment will cater to the gay community, but everyone is welcome.
"It's sort of a twist on the old concept of gay-friendly restaurants," says Miller. "I would label Stratus as a gay restaurant that is straight-friendly."
The renovated dining room, which can hold up to 100 patrons, features a fireplace, black-padded booths and light-colored foam matting on the wall. A horseshoe-shaped bar provides ample space for patrons to mingle or view one of nine televisions.
Eugenio Orona, who co-owns Stratus with former Mezza Luna owner Dave Gubitosi, said there was a need for a more trendy and upscale restaurant of this kind in the Lehigh Valley.
He added, "Unlike the gay bars in the area, we will provide an extensive food menu. We will also be nonsmoking."
The menu features everything from soups, salads and appetizers to flatbread sandwiches, pasta dishes and dinner entrees named after "The Golden Girls."
The club room, which is scheduled to open May 31, houses a second bar, dance floor, DJ booth and stage. Weekly karaoke and college (18 to party) nights have been tentatively scheduled, and "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant Roxxxy Andrews will stop by on June 1. Info: 610-776-2090 or facebook.com/StratusRestarauntNightlife.
Famished mall shoppers, rejoice! The recent opening of Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet at 1053 Grape St. (former site of Circuit City) in Whitehall Township is sure to satisfy your appetite.
The restaurant boasts more than 250 food items, including American, Chinese and Japanese staples. Highlights include freshly prepared sushi and a hibachi grilling station, where patrons can watch as their customized order is prepared. Desserts, including ice cream and homemade cakes, complete the meal.
According to Manager Cincy Zheng, the dining room can fit 200 customers while a private party room can hold an additional 100. The establishment offers lunch discounts, as well as 10 percent discounts to senior citizens, members of the military and police officers. Info: 610-266-3800.
Former Retail Watch columnist Irene Kraft reported in February that the chain's old building was leveled and construction had begun on an improved Taco Bell.
Other nearby franchises are on MacArthur Road in Whitehall, Easton Avenue in Bethlehem Township and Route 22 in Phillipsburg. Plans are also underway to build a Taco Bell at 1122 Airport Road in Allentown, currently the site of Jimmy's Place.