Burgers the Brazilian Way at Friends Pizzeria

Upon initial glance, there are so many flummoxing things about the newly opened Friends Pizzeria: A pizza place that's Brazilian? A pizza place that serves hamburgers? Hamburgers and pizza with corn and peas on them?

Houston might have become familiar over the years with its fair share of ethnic cuisines from Ethiopian to Japanese. But for all the Brazilian-style rodizios and churrascarias we have in town, we don't have a place that specializes in the endlessly fun stuff that is Brazilian fast food. Friends Pizzeria seems intent on changing that.

The small but high-energy restaurant next to another high-energy place -- Genji Karaoke -- on Westheimer has super-late hours to appeal to its neighbors (it closes at 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday) and a broad menu that would appeal to the drunkest barhound as well as the casual neighborhood visitor. And, of course, the adventurous food lovers.

That's where the Brazilian portion of Friends' menu comes in.

As I understand it, the "X" that comes before every burger on a Brazilian fast-food-style menu indicates that the burger will have, at the very least, cheese. That's because the letter X is pronounced "sheesh" in Portuguese, a sound which comes very close to sounding like "cheese." So a X-Tudo burger on the Friends Pizzeria menu means that you're getting a cheeseburger "Tudo" -- with almost everything.

Everything means everything: bacon, ham, peas, corn, potato sticks, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise and even a fried egg. It's a burger that's difficult to eat, for sure, but rewarding. I liked the pleasant crunch provided by the peas, corn and potato sticks, although I wasn't a fan of the extra-fatty bacon used on the X-Tudo ($6.95). It reminded me of the fatty bacon used in an English fry-up or a bacon buttie. Give me some American-style crispy bacon any day of the week.

What I loved, however was the pizza.

A low-gluten dough meant that the crust didn't have that tug in it that I normally look forward to, but instead it had a pleasantly soft and almost pita-like texture. There was very little mozzarella cheese or tomato sauce on the Mixta pizza ($9.95) that we ordered, leaving the rest of the ingredients to shine: more corn, red onions, black olives, green peppers and a few small dabs of catupiry cheese scattered throughout.

Those small dabs of slightly salty, ultra creamy cheese -- a Brazilian favorite originally made by an Italian immigrant in 1911 -- were maddeningly good, a triumph of texture against the vegetal snap of the toppings and the soft crust. It even tasted good the next morning. Good thing, too, as a small pizza will easily feed two people. Don't order it on your own unless you want leftovers.

As we left that night, it was clear that only a few weeks into being open, Friends was already doing a swift business in both delivery and take-out. But the delivery and take-out items, I was chagrined to see, were your typical pizza offerings.

Do yourself and Friends Pizzeria a favor and go try Brazilian pizza for yourself. If not, I'm afraid they might just take the truly fun stuff off the menu altogether.

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Katharine Shilcutt