Mango batida

Café Brasil, 2811 South McKnight Road, Rock Hill; 314-963-3535.

At Café Brasil on a Wednesday at lunch, a Marine-looking man with a mustache sits perfectly upright like he's got a steel-pole spine. He's alone, but between forkfuls of spicy sausage-and-chicken rice, he gesticulates wildly, poking his silverware at an imaginary nemesis. What's got his goat? From across the cafeteria-like dining room, we can't tell. Perhaps he's arguing about the Iraq war with a dumb-ass peacenik. Or the superiority of Brazilian food over Mexican. Maybe he's talking to a dead comrade.

We landed here on our way to Nachomama's. The plan was to enjoy an afternoon with the city's best guacamole and a margarita. But then dang if we didn't spot Café Brasil, right there at the corner of McKnight and Manchester, open for lunch. Within moments, Drink of the Week was standing in front an amazing Brazilian buffet, and drool was dribbling down our chin.

In October, the restaurant tripled its size, and the buffet has benefited. About the length of two ping-pong tables laid end to end, it's quite the spread, featuring, among other offerings, a spicy blend of rice and chicken, a stunning black-bean-and-sausage stew and buttered greens with garlic. It's the perfect lunch for gluttons; a person could get fat as fuck on this food.

As long as we were feeling crazy and spontaneous, we went ahead and ordered a batida, a Brazilian cocktail that's a kindred to the caipirinha. Both use as their central ingredient cachaça, a liquor distilled from sugar cane. But where the caipirinha consists of crushed lime and sugar, the batida is offered with a variety of juice options — among them coconut, pineapple and passion fruit. We went with mango, which is blended with the cachaça, some sweetened condensed milk and crushed ice. It arrived in a blue-stemmed martini glass. Because of the ice pellets, it looked like peach tapioca.

It's a good dessert drink, in case you feel like skipping the rice pudding. We opted for both the pudding and the batida, and have no regrets. The mango batida is not as thick as an Indian mango lasse, but it has a similar mouthfeel. The sweetness of the cachaça tempers the mango with the taste of overripe banana, and the condensed milk adds a richness.

Across the way, our Marine has calmed down. He's eating pineapple chunks and swigging iced tea. Now wearing our 21st-century thinking caps, we realize, of course, that hidden on the other side of his profile was a miniature headset, and his anger was directed not at demons but at a real-life human. Soon, when the headsets shrink further and become implants, it will become even harder to distinguish the schizos from the sane, and muttering loners everywhere will be treated with equanimity, left alone to mambo with their imaginary mates. We'll be right there with them, preaching to all the voices the glories of Café Brasil's stellar lunch buffet.

 
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