On a business trip a few years ago, my husband was taken to a Brazilian churrascaria, or steakhouse. He was extremely impressed with the experience, and even promised to take me there sometime (a promise he has not fulfilled).
But lucky for me, the Winona Community Foundation held its Foundation Night 2011 at Visions Event Center on May 6. The invitation said we were invited to experience a “taste of Brazil,” and the description of the food service sounded just like John’s Brazilian restaurant.
In addition to the food, the invitation promised that we would be celebrating the arts of Winona with displays by local artists — Bernadette Mahfood, Walken Ratajczyk, Mary Singer, Julia Crozier, Lyon Smith and Monta May — and music from the returning members of the Great River Shakespeare Festival. The Community Foundation awards grants to many arts groups. We just had to go!
At the door were Tina Anderson, WCF president, and Jeni Arnold, head of grants and development. First, the entertainment from GRSF: We were entertained by Doug Scholz-Carlson, whose wonderful singing voice has been featured in nearly half of all the Shakespeare productions, and Sarah Marek, Winona native now living in New York City who will be understudying the role of Luisa in the upcoming GRSF musical production The Fantasticks. They sang a number of musical comedy pieces, accompanied by Nancy Bachler of Winona. We sat with Sarah’s biggest fans — her husband, her parents and in-laws — who were proud as punch, rightly so.
Then the food!
When we entered the room, we were offered a caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail traditionally made with alcohol distilled from sugar cane. It was pretty yummy. After a while, we were urged to be seated to hear a welcome from Gabe Manrique, Foundation board chair. The crowd was impressed to hear that since the inception of the Winona Community Foundation in 1987, $17 million has been given in grants for community projects and organizations. There was a moment of silence for Sue Cornwell, who was instrumental in establishing the Foundation, and served as its president from 1987 to 2003. Sue and her husband, Jack, died in March of this year.
Then food service began. First we were invited to the salad bar, which included delicious parmesan and manchego cheeses, a platter of cured meats, smoked salmon, asparagus spears, things I’ve forgotten, and of course crispy lettuce. It was hard not to end the meal there!
Each diner is given a napkin and utensils, and shares a main plate with another diner. I shared with John. Waiters brought păo de queijo (warm cheese bread), crispy hot polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized bananas (yum!) family style to the table.
Each diner is also given a disk about as big as a cocktail coaster that is red on one side and green on the other. When the meat service begins, the red/green disk is used to signal the waiters, who come around the room with grilled meats on long skewers that look like swords. If your disk is red, the waiter will pass you by. But when it is green, you will be offered some of the most delicious grilled meats we had ever had — chicken, beef, pork, and a spicy sausage. Even the vision of the bathroom scales that briefly flitted through my mind could not deter me from eating, and eating. Finally, reluctantly I turned my disk to the red side for good. I couldn’t eat any more…except for the dessert, a refreshing pineapple sherbet.
Donations to the Winona Community Foundation may be mailed to Winona Community Foundation, 51 E. Fourth St., Winona, Mn 55987 or online at winonacommunityfoundation.org. Questions may be directed to 507-454-6511.