Review: Green Forest Churrascaria
Green Forest Churrascaria serves plentiful Brazilian grilled meats in Penn Hills — so come hungry.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
Green Forest Churrascaria is the perfect place to take a group of hungry friends for a lot of food — from grilled meats to the hot and cold dishes offered at the lavish buffet. To take part in the full feast, adult diners pay $40.50; while that may seem expensive, just wait until you try the non-stop parade of quality food (later on, when you’re stuffed, you’ll realize the price is quite reasonable).
Churrascaria is a Brazilian cuisine offering meat that’s cooked on a churrasqueira, a natural wooden charcoal pit with supports for multiple removable spits or skewers, on which meat is stacked and cooked; for example, one long spit could contain 10 drool-worthy filet mignons, which rotate next to other skewers.
When the meat is ready, Green Forest’s cheerful meat runners, dressed in black with red scarves, stroll around the restaurant with the hot skewers, slicing the juicy meats directly onto your plate.
Upon arriving at Green Forest, you’ll be greeted by Brazilian native Flavia Naccarato, the co-owner, hostess and dining room manager. Once seated, your server will take your drink order (try a Caipirinha, the national drink of Brazil, for $8), and offer complimentary fried banana chunks, fried yuca and toasty warm cheese puffs. You’ll also receive a very important coaster, which you’ll use to communicate with the roving grill crew: When your coaster is turned to the green side, you want more meat — but when red is facing up, you need a rest.
There’s a dizzying array of different cuts of meat — including pork (think barbecue baby-back ribs, Brazilian sausage and pork loin), beef (like ribs, short ribs and flank steak), poultry (such as turkey wrapped in bacon and chicken thighs) and lamb (chops and legs). My favorites are the filet mignon, hanger steak, chicken thighs and lamb chops.
If you’re not content with only eating meat, get up to sample dishes from dual buffets. For cold eats, there’s an assortment of cheeses, breads, dried meats, grilled vegetables and more — plus a fully stocked salad bar. In addition, there’s an iced seafood buffet, featuring items like smoked salmon, crab legs and sushi. And if all of that isn’t enough, Green Forest has hot fare in chafing dishes; selections change daily, but past options have included chicken with okra in a yuca puree, black beans with braised pork and fish stew in coconut milk.
Though it may sound wonderful, the buffets take the spotlight from the main star — the meat. It’d be better if the buffets just offered accompaniments, such as rice, vegetables and salad, as opposed to competing entrées.
Food is prepared by Brazilian natives Oswaldo Fortini (Naccarato’s husband and co-owner) and chef Antonio Werdan. Naccarato and Fortini bought Green Forest from the previous owners in 2005 while working there as a server and a manager, respectively. “This type of restaurant is common in cities like Washington, New York and Miami,” says Naccarato. “Our food is much higher-quality than [what] you might find in a chain restaurant that offers churrascaria.”
So how do you survive the onslaught of food? Arrive hungry and pace yourself! There are many, many meats coming to your table. Don’t fill up on the first few. You must also be assertive to receive meat that is cooked to your liking; feel free to tell the crew whether you want a crusty outer piece of meat or a less seasoned, more rare piece.
If by some chance you have room left, there are several decent desserts ($6.50 apiece) — like coconut flan, crème brulee, cheesecake and, my favorite, a lemon sorbet served inside a hollowed-out lemon.
Aside from the over-the-top buffet, the décor is the restaurant’s weakest element. Right off the bat, it suffers from being inside a plain-Jane office park, and the interior features a dated palette of red, salmon, tan, brown and black.
Green Forest is truly a carnivore’s paradise; plus, it offers a fun experience, to boot. The enthusiasm among diners is obvious, and the banter between the charming meat runners adds to the experience.
While envisioning a football team taking over the restaurant, I asked our cook if Green Forest is aimed at the male population. He laughed and said that, when it comes to grilled meats, a Pittsburgh woman can out-eat any man. Ladies, grab your guys and go!
Oswaldo Fortini, Co-owner | Green Forest Churrascaria
What do you want people to know about your restaurant?
Everything is made from scratch. I butcher my own meat. I don’t use any processed, frozen or canned food. Many restaurants of this size reheat prepared foods. We don’t. My business has increased every year, and I think that that’s because people like the variety and quality. We also have developed a big party business and can accommodate 20 to 100 people at a time. [Also,] our restaurant is very personal. [Co-owner and wife] Flavia and I go to every table to greet people. This is a person-to-person experience, not a corporate one. We are both here every day to make sure things run smoothly.
What advice do you have about grilling?
For red meat, start with good- quality, high-grade meat. You want to use a hot fire for a short time to get the most juicy and tender product. Our churrasqueira oven cooks at 800 degrees, so it’s really hot. For chicken and the few meats I marinate, I like to use rock salt in my marinades; it doesn’t mask the flavor of the meat.
How do you accommodate the different preferences people have for levels of doneness, with respect to meat?
I’d actually like customers to tell me what they prefer when they first sit down, so that I can grill things to their liking. Or we ask them. Occasionally, someone will ask me for a dish that’s not even on the menu and, if I have the ingredients, I’ll make it.
How do you divide duties with chef Antonio?
I supervise all of the food, but Antonio does most of the cooking. We worked together years ago on Long Island, and I have been trying to hire him here for about four years. I finally got him to leave New York in 2011.
How has Pittsburgh transformed during the time you have lived here?
It’s much more international, with much more variety in the food. This diversity is good for everyone because people can enjoy more cuisines, and I think people actually go out more. Also, places are open later — you can have more fun after hours.