Americans have finally come around to soccer: Since the World Cup last convened in 2010, the number of U.S. adults who have watched, attended or listened to a major soccer match has surged by 32 percent. Or, to keep the math closer to home, just count the number of jersey-clad fans staggering down Charleston streets after a U.S. match.
But the World Cup's return brings with it a few reminders of why Americans were holdouts for so long. Namely, the ties. Such an ambiguous outcome might make sense in a country that's spent thousands of years winning and losing battles, but Americans like their victories clear-cut. We haven't yet matured to the point where we can see the beauty in a final score of nil to nil.
Really, a finish like that just stymies our primary spectating objective, which is to figure out who's best. Who's the best passer? The best defender? The best coach? When the scoreboard reads 0-0, who knows?
I'm often guilty of approaching obscure restaurants the same way: While I know the restaurant's unlikely to excel in every category, I'm keen to find the best pizza crust, or the best chicken gravy, or the best horchata. It doesn't really matter what the restaurant does best, so long as it has more to offer than an OK plate of food.
It was fitting, then, that I was at Brazilian Buffet & Bakery yesterday for the Brazil-Mexico match, which ended in a 0-0 draw. Everything about the stripped down restaurant was fine, but my efforts to unearth a superior dish - the kind that would make me want to send you to Goose Creek right this second -- flopped.
Brazilian's yellow-walled dining room is minimally decorated: If patrons notice anything about their surroundings, it's likely to be the florescent lighting and faulty air-conditioning. There are a few plastic-wrapped sandwiches and beige pizza slices idling in the cooler, but every customer I saw headed straight for the $10 buffet.
Sliced fruit and pasta salad open the buffet, but the steam table veers off in a meaty direction. Just past the spiky white rice and beans (pinto and black), there are crusted slabs of mild white fish; stewed chuck steak; salty chicken thighs and fried pork nubs. Thickly-sliced plantains, shimmering with frying oil, occupy the final spot.
The fish was by far the prettiest item in the line-up, but the black beans benefitted from the most thoughtful seasoning: They were woodsy and garlicky. If I hadn't planned on ending my meal with a major pastry order, I would have had seconds. Only the beef disappointed: It was tough (and, while we're on the topic, a coconut cake was distractingly dry, although I really liked a soft, jam-filled cookie. The dozen or so very quiet fans who gathered for the game seemed to prefer watermelon for dessert.) Everything else tasted pretty much as expected.
While chewing the beef, I had a chance to examine the housemade hot sauce at the center of the table. Stoplight red, the dense, vinegar-based sauce had a fruity flavor, although the cashier assured me it didn't include any fruit - just "Brazilian chiles." I'm guessing she meant malagueta peppers, the popular Brazilian pepper that's twice as hot as cayenne. The sauce was terrific - even if it wasn't the best hot sauce I've ever had.
Brazil's national team returns to the field next Monday at 4 p.m. Brazilian Buffet & Bakery is located at 1258 Red Bank Rd.