Worcester’s Seven Hills have seen their fair share of eateries over the past decade; in fact, there is some question as to whether the upcoming restaurant boom will even be sustainable. One thing that we’ve observed, however, is a correlation between experience and success. In a time where choice is abundant, Jack Trout’s aptly named book, Differentiate Or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition, rings true for some of Central Massachusetts’ best restaurants. Weeks after opening, Mass Foodies’ local Foodies group ventured to Worcester’s newest Brazilian restaurant, Terra Brasilis to see if they bring a different experience to the Worcester restaurant scene.
To begin with, the space has some history. The much loved Piccadilly Pub resided here for nearly 40-years before closing in 2012. After that, several short lived restaurants tried to capitalize on brand and location as Paparazzi and The Pic, before closing last year. With Terra Brasilis moving in, there seem to be very little changed in the layout and seating—the thick knotty pine booths still reside in place and the bar sits next to the newly installed buffet fixtures in front of the new barbecue pit. Upon entering the restaurant, the group was eagerly welcomed and shown to their seats where it was explained how the restaurant worked: the waitress will serve drinks from the bar to you at your seats while you grab a large plate and visit the buffet. At the end of the buffet, you pay by the weight of your plate and are given a ticket which you use if you decide to have seconds, desserts, or non-alcholic drinks from the register. At the end of the night, you see the hostess stand by the entrance to settle your bill. Mass Foodies contributor, Donna Dufault, explained, “The service was very personable. There are not many (if any) weigh-and-pay buffets, so the explanation was helpful.” Scott Erb added, “The fact that the staff was so pleasant and attentive the entire time–from seating us, to bringing us drinks, through clearing the plates—really made us feel at home.”
With a large selection of food, it was nice to see some familiar items that would make the less adventures happy while also having truly authentic items to give a taste of the chef’s home country of Brazil. But, let’s face it, no one goes to a buffet looking for a fine dining experience. There is a certain stigma that a buffet has, thanks in part to the “all you can eat Chinese buffet” movement that allows Americans to over indulge without thinking about quality or price. The buffet here, however, was clean, well lit and offered a variety of hot and cold, pickled and sautéed, options. “Being a vegetarian,” explained contributor Julie Giacobbe, “I was able to find a variety of rices, vegetables and non-meat products that didn’t make me feel as though I was missing out.”
The main stage of any barbecue place (Brazilian or otherwise) is the meat. Terra Brasilis offered seemingly countless meats, both safe and expected (e.g., garlic beef, bacon wrapped chicken, and pork loin) and traditional and exotic (e.g., spicy sausage, and chicken hearts). They are open roasted and carved to the diner’s preference and most of the meats were prepared using rubs and spices that are common to the Brazilian culture and palate. The only complaint that was repeated amongst the group was that many of the meats were overdone. “Unfortunately, my chicken was inedible because it was so dry—meanwhile, my husband’s was perfectly moist,” Robin Lane stated. “There seemed to be some inconsistency in the meats—some cuts were perfect, others were dry,” added Amy Peterson. This is the caveat with open flame barbecue, specifically in a buffet setting. Most Brazilian barbecues offer pampas style service—where they come to the table and carve the meat directly onto your plate—which accounts for the idle cooking time (meat continues to cook despite not being over the heat source, which, means that a perfectly cooked slice could be dry once you walk to the table, sit down, and enjoy some of the other items on the plate).
The finale, however, was the desserts. Made in house, the cakes were opulent slices made from scratch (with the exception of the cookies from the “Oreo cake,” understandably) that were larger than the plate. Evan Dufault, taking a break from his Oreo cake explained, “The Oreo cake was rich and decadent. It seemed to be soaked in milk which made it extremely moist. The Oreo cookie crumbles and the homemade frosting gave the cake wonderful texture and was borderline sinful. Easily the best part of the meal, as dessert usually is.”
Regardless if the meats may have disappointed some, it was forgiven immediately when the bills were paid—most of the dishes were $10 and, some, even less. During the night, there were several other parties enjoying the Brazilian barbecue, but the steady stream of customers coming for take out was notable. With colleges back in session in Worcester, being able to load a take-out container for under $10 worth of sustenance is a no-brainer. We’ve seen this similar success with Bay State Schwarma and Grill, an eatery on Water Street that offers cafeteria style service with middle eastern fare, and have no doubt that the value proposition of enjoying authentic flavors of different cultures is a sweet spot for differentiation in Worcester’s culinary stew.
To survive in “an era of killer competition” any business must differentiate itself from its competitors. While many restaurants need to do this with their menu, ingredients, service, or atmosphere, Terra Brasilis has a leg-up simply by being one of the only restaurants with a weigh-and-pay buffet model… add the authentic flavors and exotic selection of meats, any shortcomings can easily be forgiven. We look forward to see how they progress with the time and evolve with the city’s economic development.