[UPDATE: Please see comments section for updates on times and availability of restaurant]
Back in June when I went to Astoria's Beija Flor for a Brazilian Copa America game, I walked by the Holiday Inn Hotel and noticed signs for a Brazilian steakhouse inside. Already a bit late for kickoff, I mentally noted the sports bar and continued over to watch a normally wonderful team play like crap. The Brazilians gathered there were noticeably irritable, but circling back to check out the hotel after the game made my night a positive on the whole.
The sports bar advertises happy hour and all types of events, I would definitely have included it for Copa if only I would have known. They play all the Brazilian league games and must be real fun for that, when club rivalries coalesce on their many screens. The bar menu is limited but does have coxinha and some Brazilian snacks as well as all the US favorites.
For people that are not fans of the beautiful game, the real fun is downstairs where an economical Brazilian rodizio exists, miles beyond your normal hotel restaurant. On weekdays, the full all-you-can-eat experience is $20, more than $40 cheaper than its upscale competitors in Manhattan. Now for this price, one must be realistic about the quality of food, but for the price, it's really a steal. On weekends, the price rises to $23.99.
For those new to rodizio, the concept is simple. Large skewers of meat are grilled by the chefs and brought out by knife-wielding staff. You are given a way to proclaim "yes" and "no" to all of them, here shown above with a painted block of wood. Green up means you are hungry, keep it coming. You can easily find yourself under a mountain of fresh meat, so turning the block to red will stop the onslaught. It is very difficult to say no to any of them, so letting them pass is sometimes easier.
Come near 5:30 opening when the salad bar is freshest, but don't despair, they refill it well. While I did eat some vegetables from the bar, I went back for seconds of the delicious black beans and white rice. The bowl to the right side below is farofa, completing the mixture to perfection.
With so many options, and unlimited ones at that, it is hard to stay away from the colorful salad bar, but the trick is balance. Too much meat and I tend to fill up too quickly. Too much beans and rice, and I have not gotten a good representation of all the different cuts of meat. It must take years to master the art of successful rodizio strategy. I tried to learn from friends in Rio, but even then, everything happens so fast.
When the meats do start coming, if you are not too hungry, one way to approach the evening is to grab a few vegetables, put your red block side up, and watch everything that comes out. Otherwise you find yourself saying yes to everything and plates of meat start piling up very quickly.
The other great part of only paying $20 for rodizio is that you can get stuffed on the wrong things and not feel like you did something wrong. It is all a learning experience for next time, when you will be much more patient and critical. I dined here alone, but it might be better with a group as you can always cut the meats in half if you take too much.
The mix of people finding their way downstairs to the basement is also fun, some Brazilians from the area as well as a lot of Asian tourists that are guests at the hotel. Astoria is probably the neighborhood that something along these lines would naturally exist. The picanha might be better at a swanky rodizio in Manhattan, but the basement of the Holiday Inn in Astoria is not so bad.