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Sunday, May 27 Living

Jane Stern: Mina’s Brazilian buffet is worth the drive

Like many food writers I have my favorite source for suggestions. In my case, it is not the glossy food magazines or The New York Times or the Food Network. It is my neighbor Justin who mows my lawn in the summer and plows my driveway in the winter. Justin does not look like your prototypical food critic: an effete mustachioed snob holding a wineglass in the air. He is a muscular 6-foot-3-inches, tattooed, wears size 12 work boots and drives a pickup truck.

Justin loves to eat, and there is a lot of him to fill up. When he makes a suggestion, I run because he is never wrong and, like me, utterly unimpressed by pretentious places and precious menus.

It was through Justin I learned about Mina’s Carne & Deli, a combination butcher shop and Brazilian barbecue in Danbury. Danbury has tons of Brazilian restaurants. I have yet to find a bad one, but many are mediocre and not worth a recommendation. Mina’s is a real find, and the more I learned about it, the more I came to realize its fame has spread not just around Danbury, but across the country. Thanks to the internet, Mina’s has a clientele of fans who are willing to drive a very long distance to eat here. In the 20 years it has been in Danbury, it has picked up quite a following.

Mina’s for dinner???

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Like many Brazilian buffets, there is a set order to the way the food is served. I went at lunchtime when I joined a line of workmen, medical folks from Danbury Hospital, college students, elderly citizens and families with children. At the head of the food line, you pick up a tray. The first thing you see are the cheese rolls and if you skip this, well … just don’t. The cheese rolls are the size of a baseball, crisp-skinned and light as air. The cheese is integrated into the dough and the rolls are steaming hot. After the cheese rolls there are trays of salads and healthy stuff like cut-up fruit that looked perfectly fine and fresh, but not worth losing any of my stomach’s precious real estate for.

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Mina’s Carne & Deli

36 Osborne St., Danbury

When you get to the steam table, things get serious. There are perhaps 10 dishes. With a ladle you help yourself, it is up to you and not the server to adjust the amount.

I looked around and while plenty of people had, like me, taken the hearty foods from the steam table, many had only salad rice and beans on their plates. When they reached the meat carver, they pointed at one or more of the long metal skewers that bore rotisserie chicken, beef, pork, sausages and even roasted pineapple. The meats and the pineapple are slow cooked over charcoal and there is not one that is anything less then stellar.

As skillfully as a surgeon, the meat carver pulls the skewers from the flames and after asking how much you want, he carves it right before your eyes, making sure you get it just the way you like. I have had this type of “carved to order” Brazilian barbecue before, but can’t remember a more delicious version. The carver will keep slicing as long as you keep pointing, and by the time I called a halt, I had half a barnyard on my plate.

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The sirloin steak was especially good. I like my steak medium rare and he deposited many two-inch succulent pink strips on my plate. The meat needed no salt, no pepper nor any extra spices. It is already seasoned to perfection. The only thing I added to the beans was a spoonful of very spicy hot sauce that was on the table. The grilled pineapple was refreshing, but I still hit the soda cabinet that features a great selection of exotic Brazilian sodas. If you are not a fan of soda, try the cold cashew juice (yes, it sounds very odd), but it goes perfectly with the food.

Mina’s has a refrigerated case of desserts — flan and tropical cakes with coconut that all look good. I adore flan and this was probably the first time in my life I was too stuffed to order it.

One more note, Mina’s sells fresh meats in the butcher case. They too look wonderful, but all I could think of was the effort one would have to go through to replicate what is already cooked at Mina’s. It is a time-management thing, and I vote for Mina’s doing all the hard work.

Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.

Jane Stern|Columnist

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