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Joys from Brazil

South American specialties are all you can eat at Minas Emporium

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I spent the first years of my life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since many of my early food memories involve those native dishes, I've always kept an eye out for good, home-style Brazilian cuisine. It had always been hard to find in metro Atlanta, at least until recently. Marietta and Sandy Springs have become the unofficial homes of an increasingly large Brazilian population. Clusters of Brazilian bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores have opened to provide expats with everything they need to feed their nostalgia. Minas Emporium (7405 Roswell Road, 678-731-9960) is one such place, a tiny grocery where you can find anything from a Brazilian soccer jersey to tapioca flour to beautifully marbled steaks. Minas also happens to serve one of the greatest all-you-can-eat Brazilian lunch buffets in town. The best part? It's only $6.99 — $4.99 if you take it to go — every day except Sunday.

Feijoada, one of Brazil's most-loved national dishes, is a hard-to-find item that's normally only served during the weekend or on special occasions. However, Minas serves it almost every day, a true find if you're a fan. Feijoada is prepared by cooking various cuts of smoked and cured pork, beef, sausage, and vegetables together with black beans until the whole thing is tender and thick. The cooked-down black beans cover each chunk of meat in a creamy broth. It's pure heaven when ladled over a mound of white rice.

Carne seca (dried beef) is cooked with bright yellow squash until the beef is rehydrated and supple, yet still pleasantly chewy. Large hunks of pork reminiscent of Mexican carnitas are well-seasoned and fork-tender. It's easy and satisfying to make a meal out of the pork, slow-cooked pinto beans and rice. Rounds of okra have no trace of sliminess thanks to their preparation — they're pan fried until the evergreen skin is crackly with little bits of brown caramelization. Huge pieces of boiled cassava (or yucca) may look boring, but this sticky root is a nice foil to any of the stewed dishes. And despite the fact that it's coming from a buffet, the roast chicken is anything but soggy. Each piece has a crackly skin that's encrusted with bits of salt and spices. Seriously, it might be the best buffet roast chicken you'll ever eat.

In addition to the killer lunchtime fare, there are plenty of sweet things and savory pastries if you're looking for a nibble rather than a full-blown meal. Among the many choices, the Coxinha stands apart. Coxinha is a popular Brazilian snack made from shredded chicken and Catupiry, a mild cheese that tastes like a mashup of Laughing Cow spreadable cheese and cream cheese. The cheese and chicken are shaped into teardrops said to mimic the shape of a chicken thigh (Coxinha actually means "little thigh" in Portuguese), dipped in a batter and deep-fried. Ask the folks behind the counter to reheat them for you.

If they're available that day, you have to try the passion fruit mousse and the Brigadeiro for dessert. The mousse will hit you over the head with the unmistakable essence of passion fruit. It's silky, bright and super creamy thanks to the sticky, sweet condensed milk that's used to add body. If you happen to dine with a friend, splurge and get two to avoid any arguments. If chocolate is your thing, a Brigadeiro is a must. These dense chocolate truffles made out of condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter are formed into balls and coated in chocolate sprinkles. While traditionally served at children's parties, this small taste of childhood is a sweet ending to an already nostalgic meal.

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