SADLY, THIS AWESOME RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
His heavens shall drop down dew. Deut 33:28
What the dew in the East is to the world of nature, that is the influence of the Spirit in the realm of grace. How greatly do I need it! Without the Spirit of God I am a dry and withered thing. I droop, I fade, I die. How sweetly does this dew refresh me! When once favored with it I feel happy, lively, vigorous, elevated. I want nothing more. (Charles Spurgeon, Faith’s Check Book, September 13th entry)
Yes! Cooling rain, blessed dew from Heaven that brings hope and comfort to a parched earth . . . . but sadly, we haven’t received much in the way of watery Heavenly relief these past few weeks; thus, the misting sprayers on the patio of Rio’s Brazilian attracted us to the tables under the outside awning. Well, ok. The misters as well as the reviews of Rio’s Brazilian on Yelp!, more than one of which notes the unappetizing odor of the restrooms that sometimes permeates the inside of the restaurant, convinced us to sit outside. The evening was hot and muggy, but the tiniest of warm evening breeze was present , so we really thought we’d be comfortable enough sitting outside to eat. The patio area is small, with only six or seven tables, and this evening about three tables were already taken. We chose a table near the restaurant door, not really near the edge of the patio, but as soon as we sat down we were blasted with what seemed more akin to a rain storm than to a gentle mist. As we moved to another table, one of the other diners on the patio told us that the table we were choosing was also in the path of the mister gone wild. We chose a yet a different table at that point: a picnic table near the far end of the patio that seemed out of reach of the deluge from the super-mister. I noticed, when I sat down on the bench, a mud puddle under the table near my feet. I thought perhaps someone who sat in that spot before me had spilled a beverage. Soon after that thought crossed my mind, however, I was hit from above with a large quantity of water that came down all at once in my lap and on my purse. I looked up to see the source of the deluge; apparently water from the mister was forming great puddles on the awning that periodically parted an awning seam, at which moment the gathered pool of water would pour through and drench the table, ground, and seated patron beneath it. I happened to be sitting under that spot where the great pool of water formed. Just as I looked up at the waters pouring forth, a man seated nearby explained to me that the awning was regularly releasing water through the seam onto that spot. Instead of changing tables once again, I grabbed a chair from an empty table and placed it at the end of our table, away from the periodic torrent and the over-achieving misters. And so began our experience at Austin’s Rio’s Brazilian Cafe.
I must mention at this point that despite the many negative elements of this review of the Brazilian cafe, I honestly and sincerely recommend that people restricted to a gluten-free diet (as well as those who aren’t) try this restaurant. The rewards of eating the unique gluten-free offerings at Rio’s outweigh the restaurant’s shortcomings. One just has to realize what the restaurant is all about, then he’ll reasonably adjust his expectation toward the over-all dining experience and concentrate on the quality and variety of the gluten-free offerings. The restaurant is located in the 400 block of Pleasant Valley in East Austin; the location itself should be enough to forewarn potential customers that their dinner experiences will be anything but elegant. The house-turned-restaurant is in a residential neighborhood, encased among homes that have yards surrounded by chain link fences bearing “Beware of Dog” signs. The night we ate at Rios, we saw two Austin police department cars parked in front of one of the nearby homes. Austin, however, has many restaurant treasures snuggled among some unpromising or humble homes, in sketchy-looking neighborhoods, so Rio’s location really shouldn’t be anyone’s deciding factor against dining there. I confess, however, that Phil and I may have passed Rio’s up, had our sons not highly recommended the food. Our oldest son has Celiac and has never been sickened by eating at Rio’s. We trusted ahead of time the cross-contamination control in the restaurant’s kitchen.
The inside dining area at Rio’s seemed a bit stuffy the night we ate there, and we actually smelled the restrooms as we passed them when we first entered the building (the obvious restroom odor testifying to the accuracy of the Yelp reviews). We told the waiter that we would dine outside, and he directed us to find the table of our choice. After we finally found a suitable sitting arrangement outside, the waiter brought our menus. He was helpful, and extremely friendly. I ordered a Mexican Coke (LOVE that cane sugar-sweetened beverage!) and Phillip ordered a dark Brazilian beer.
Having finally found a way to avoid the over-abundant misting moisture, we realized that our Rio’s adventure would contain more surprises as the waiter arrived with our drinks. Handing me a straw as he placed the Coke and a jar with ice in it on the table, he explained to me that since the jar that held the ice had a chip in it, he wanted me to use the straw so that I might not cut myself while I drank from it. I seriously thought that gesture a kind one; the waiter seemed genuinely concerned about the chip in the glass. Still, one wonders if most of the jars at Rio’s used as glasses have chips so that one without a chip was impossible for the waiter to find, or whether most of the jars were dirty so that the only clean ones were those with flaws???? No matter. The jar looked clean, despite the chip in it; I had a straw to protect my lip from injury as I drank, and the well-iced Coke tasted refreshing on that balmy July Austin evening.
The menu selections at Rio’s Brazilian are exciting, especially to those of us gluten-intolerant people who are usually faced with restaurant choices such as burgers without a buns, with side salads substituted for the cross-contaminated French fries, or worse. The gluten-allergy list Chuy’s provides shows that Celiacs can eat only two items offered at Chuy’s establishments: the Cobb salad (ordered without the chicken, cheese, and salad dressing), and the guacamole taco (ordered without everything except the guacamole). At Rio’s, however, the variety of the menu items causes one’s taste buds to stand on end in anticipation of a meal without sacrifice. The cassava plant (also known as yuca, manioc, and mandioca, among other names) is a mainstay of Brazilian cooking, and this plant happens to be gluten-free. It’s the plant from which tapioca flour is derived. This plant is also dominant in the dishes so deliciously served at Rio’s; thus, many of the dishes are naturally gluten-free. To make things even easier for the gluten-free diner, gluten-free items on the menu are clearly marked with the letters gf, written in bright red font.
Joy of joys! A Celiac can actually enjoy the appetizer cheese bread at this restaurant: the traditional Brazilian Pão de Queijo, which of course Phil and I ordered. Made from tapioca starch, this ball-shaped bread has a pleasantly chewy texture and subtle cheese flavor. I was a bit overwhelmed with the variety of amazing gluten-free items on the menu, but I eventually chose Bolinho de Aipim de Queijo, described in the menu as “Yuca root pastry stuffed with smoked gouda cheese and roasted red pepper, then rolled in toasted yuca flour.” I neglected to take a picture of the dish when the waiter placed it before me, but it resembled a giant, breaded egg. Inside the egg is a creamy mixture of cheese and red pepper. The creamy center combined with the slightly crunchy exterior provides a pleasing texture for the palate. Although certainly satisfying in flavor, it is rather mild; those who prefer something with more heat might want to choose another item from the menu.
Phillip ordered something gluten-free as well; that way I could sample more than one dish on the menu. He chose the Estrogonofe de Frango, which the menu describes as “Tradtional Brazilan chicken stroganoff with mushroom and a red crème de leite sauce, served over rice and topped with yuca crisps.” Oh, my goodness. What a scrumptious meal this dish makes! The portion is large enough to easily feed two people. Even though I ate more of Phillip’s dinner than I should have (given that I ate mine entirely by myself), he ended up too full to clean his plate. I, unfortunately, having eaten my own meal as well as a large portion of his, was also unable to clean his plate! The crowning ingredient in this dish is the yuca crisps that top the stroganoff: they are light in texture and crunch, with just enough saltiness to be noticeable, but not overwhelming.
As we were finishing our meal, a small band was setting up on the small outdoors stage. Sadly, we had to skip dessert, and thus left before the band began playing. Satiated by our meal, we were simply too full to do justice to the desserts, anyway.
Luckily, our decision to end the dinner with our main courses gives us a reason to return to Rio’s so that we can try the three gluten free dessert options, all of which sound amazingly, sinfully delicious: Pudim de Leite, “Traditional Brazilian flan served with fresh whipped cream,”Mousse de Chocolate com Maracujá, “Rich chocolate and passion fruit mousse served with fresh whipped cream,” and finally Doce de Abóbora, “Butternut squash simmered with coconut and cinnamon for a delicious sweet pudding.” I am wildly anticipating our dessert-tasting trip to Rio’s!
Although Rio’s Brazilian Café has its character flaws, the enthusiastic and friendly staff (several of whom came by to offer more water and such as we waited a marathon length of time for our dinner), its unique, flavorful dishes, and its easy gluten-free environment definitely make this restaurant a mandatory addition to one’s list of gluten-safe dining establishments.