It's exciting to get the chance to see how a small, independent restaurateur will translate a cuisine or concept you've seen before. That happens all the time with Mexican, Italian, Chinese and other cuisines.
Not so often with Brazilian churrascarias.
So the sign on Main Street in Safety Harbor suggesting an upstart Portuguese-Brazilian steak house was just a block away was surprising.
Open for about two months, Lulu's is the first restaurant for the husband-and-wife team of Amadeu Fortes and Lindsey Clewer, who moved here from Portugal after visiting friends and vacationing in the area. Fortes says his mother was a chef in Portugal, and he wanted to follow in her footsteps. When they found the location in Safety Harbor for rent, they decided it was time to give it a try.
It isn't the same superluxe, extravagant experience as the chains, but at less than half the price, it doesn't need to be. And the relaxed atmosphere fits the neighborhood.
There is no team of gauchos here delivering the meat. There is Chris Cameron. He's the sous chef, and he delivers the large skewers of meat to the dining room. He'll walk you through the six cuts they have available, one at a time. There are two pork sausages, one mild and one hot. The mild one showcased the meat better, but both had a nice snap.
There was lamb and pork chop. The lamb had a spicy seasoning to it, and was tender and juicy. Our pork probably spent a little too much time over the fire on one visit, but was a favorite on another.
There are two beef offerings: a ribeye and a picanha (pronounced pick-AHN-ya). Here, the picanha is made from tri-tip, a fat-capped cut from the same area as top sirloin. The fat is integral to the cut, so don't be tempted to trim it. Try to take a bite that has the crust, a bit of fat and plenty of lean. The ribeye varied a little between visits as well, nicely seasoned on one visit, but seemingly missing salt on another. And if it was ribeye, it was an interesting cut. The texture and the grain reminded me more of a skirt steak. Not that that is a problem. Skirt steak is a favorite.
The salad bar covers the basics, and a bar of hot side dishes supplements the meat well.
The churrascaria service starts at dinner, but sandwiches and salads are available at lunchtime. Clewer says the menu is still a work in progress.
Lulu's is off to a good start with a concept that would seem challenging on a small scale. It will be fun to watch those developments.
Jim Webster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.