| Meat! |

Carnivores Behaving Frugally

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If the three-martini lunch was the status symbol of the go-go '80s (Gordon Gekko and all that), then surely the steakhouse dinner replete with a bottle of Opus One and a finishing cigar was the defining dish of the naughty '00s (pronounced "aughties" by the way).

Such naughty carnivorousness was exacerbated by an avalanche of high-end steakhouse chains entering the Houston market. Old standbys and feisty newcomers mingled and prospered during the boom -- Ruth's Chris, Morton's, Vic & Anthony's, Smith & Wollensky, Mo's, Pappa's Brothers, Fleming's, The Strip House, Sullivan's, The Palm, The Capital Grille, Perry's, Spencer's, Don Shula's, Killen's. Just to name a few.

So now that the bust is upon us and expense accounts are as thin as a Stanford Financial Group balance statement, what is a true carnivore to do? To paraphrase a famous Enron whistleblower, for those of us who didn't get rich in the last few years, how can we afford to satisfy our meaty cravings without breaking the bank?

I think I've found the answer. In addition to the proliferation of traditional steakhouses over the last decade, Houston has seen the introduction of several Brazilian-style steakhouses (churrascarias). Joining the venerable Fogo de Chão, Nelore Churrascaria and the recently opened Tradição Brazilian Steakhouse have added to the carnivore's choices.

The benefits of the churrascaria over the traditional steakhouse are well-known. First, it's all-you-can-eat. Second, you get to choose from a dizzying smorgasbord of meats -- Picanha (top sirloin), Ribeye, Filet Mignon, Filet Mignon Com Bacon (Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon), Fraldinha (bottom sirloin), Pernil De Carneiro (leg of lamb), Costelinha De Porco (baby-back ribs), Peito De Frango Com Bacon (chicken breast wrapped in bacon).

But still, dinner at a churrascaria can be expensive -- easily $30-$50 not including drinks or dessert. Not particularly frugal. But again there is penny-pinching option: lunch. The lunch service at many of these churrascarias is often significantly less expensive than dinner with the exact same service and meat selection.

A recent lunch visit to Nelore Churrascaria in Montrose revealed a quiet and peaceful half-full dining room and a neverending procession skewered meats. All for the quite reasonable price of $24.95 (salad bar included).

So for business executives looking to relive the glory days of the '80s as well as carnivores of the '00s wishing to satisfy their cravings, the indulgent (but frugal) churrascaria lunch may be deja vu all over again. Of course that third martini or bottle of Opus One is completely optional.

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