I should have come here first, I thought as I finished my beef-on-beef dinner at Pampas Grille just outside CityPlace on a recent night.
Pampas is one of two Brazilian steak house companies to open a location in Palm Beach County in recent months, the other one being Texas de Brazil in Palm Beach Gardens.
Unfortunately for Pampas, I went to Texas de Brazil first. So, by the time I visited Pampas, the restaurant which five months ago took over the handsome space vacated by McCormick and Schmick’s, I expected a great pageant of meats on the roasting spit, as is the southern Brazilian rodizio (in rotation) style.
I expected a lavish salad bar, one that could stand on its own as a meal offering, meat or no meat.
And well-informed servers who knew the cuts of meat on the rotation – I expected that as well.
Had I expected much less, perhaps I would have been as pleased as the Brazilian friend who urged me to visit Pampas. She has lunched there on several occasions and raved about the value prices, the hefty lunches to be had for the price of a couple of fast food burger combos.
Pampas, in fact, offers a rodizio express lunch for $12 per person, including three grilled meats and a trip to the salad and side-dish buffet. (The full, unlimited meat rodizio is $19 at lunch; the vegetarian option is $12 at lunch.) And, yes, I agree it’s hard to beat this kind of lunch deal.
But for an anticipated night-on-the-town kind of dinner, this is not the place.
On the night of our visit, our pleasant server offered a generic drum-roll of what was to come after our round at the salad and side dish bar, where we picked over an underwhelming assortment of greens, pickled vegetables and other salad accoutrements.
But it seems it took a couple of baskets of bread before the meat parade really got started. In fact, we had to ask our server why the meat offerings were so few and far between. We had seen pared-down stumps of beef, other paltry amounts of protein, and a grilled pineapple that, I must say, proved to be pretty delicious.
Then crickets. (The sound, I mean, not the protein.)
Soon enough, prompted by our query, one server after another showed up at our table with slightly larger cuts of meat, though their information seemed sketchy.
By reading the menu, I can tell you we were offered a tasty, slightly spicy chicken breast bits wrapped in bacon, a fairly flavorful garlic and shallot-marinated sirloin, crispy-yet-moist chile-marinated chicken legs, slices of garlicky leg of lamb, delicious smoked ham, and a couple of other beef cuts.
We noticed some of the beef cuts were overcooked. We mentioned this to one of the meat servers, who explained that one of the other tables had requested the meat served that way. Terrific for that other table – but it’s a fact that should have been mentioned before the servers sliced the meats at our table. That would have saved them the trouble of having to cart it all back to the kitchen, as we requested medium to medium-rare meats.
Granted, the meal, lackluster as it was, didn’t cost a fortune. In fact, at $29 per person, the meat rodizio dinner is considerably less expensive than the $42.99 meat rodizio dinner at Texas de Brazil. (Pampas’ surf and turf dinner, also unlimited, is $36. The vegetarian dinner rodizio is $24, and the dinner buffet bar as a meal is $21. You also can purchase grilled seafood skewers for $12 to $16 at dinner.)
With its proximity to the Kravis Center, Pampas is in a prime spot with great potential. But despite its quite popular lunch, it will not achieve true steak house status without a service overhaul – and, yes, a more impressive salad bar.
ADDRESS: 651 Okeechobee Boulevard (at CityPlace), West Palm Beach
PRICE RANGE: Moderate
HOURS: Open daily for lunch and dinner
CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards
RESERVATIONS: Accepted, but walk-ins welcome
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother