Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pampas' Bakery

'Best to keep an eye on this place...just don't look too closely at the decor.'

Growing up we often visited an aunt of mine in southern California. My aunt Florence is an amazing cook, whipping up the most tasty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you can imagine. Although Disneyland or Universal Studios was often the planned "activity" of the vacation, in retrospect I would argue that the true attraction and highlight of our trips down south was her food (both for the adults and the kids). One of the things that my aunt introduced me to that I am absolutely in love with today - is the empanada. And my aunt made the best empanadas. The empanada originated in Spain but many Latin American and/or Spanish colonized/influenced countries have their own version of this stuffed bread or pastry. I thought that the farmer's market was one of the only places where you could pick up an empanada to go in SLC when...

I was meandering down a strip mall in Sugarhouse enjoying the artwork in a local gallery this past weekend. I noticed a bakery just below the shop I was in. It was about 3pm in the afternoon (time for my afternoon snack) so I thought a drop into the bakery was well in order. I immediately got the sense of deja vu (a glitch in the matrix?) when I dug deep to remember that this space was formerly occupied by the Italian restaurant Michelangelo's. I had a hard time connecting the space to Michelangelo's because the owners of Pampa's had really changed the interior. In a word, the decor is...well...bizarre. The place is oddly situated with a few tables, covered in plastic, on opposite ends of the restaurant separated by a humongous wooden bar. I wouldn't call the layout off putting, but my first impression was that the decor wasn't exactly calling me out to come take a seat.

What the interior design lacked was well made up by the warm and friendly service at Pampa's. I was greeted at the front counter by the owner who explained the Argentinian concept and walked me through several dishes and pastries. He was very proud of his Argentinian food and described the kind of flavors that were commonly found in Argentina. Unfortunately when he mentioned empanadas, I tuned everything else he said out. I knew what I wanted: 2 empanadas please! He also spoke really highly of a pastry filled with a homemade caramel that I also ordered as well. $4.00 later (can you believe how cheap it was?) I took a bag home with one chicken empanada, one beef empanada, and my caramel dessert.

Once I got home, I opened up the bag up with much excitement and immediately devoured the empanadas. The filling was still piping hot and the savory beef and onion mixture oozed out of the crusty bread when I took a big bite. The beef was robustly flavored with a slight hint of tomato, very moist and tender with onions and garlic. Although not done in the style of empanada of my aunt, I very much enjoyed this Argentinian version. The chicken empanada was also very tasty, a lighter dish than the beef option, stuffed with pieces of hard boiled egg. I really should have stopped there. I mean really, I was going to eat dinner in like 3 hours. But I just had to try the highly recommended caramel pastry. The pastry itself was light, buttery, and flaky topped with powdered sugar. It contrasted nicely with the caramel - a thick, sweet goo. I got about halfway through the pastry before I had to quit eating, to save myself from gluttony (too late actually).

Pampa's also offers a variety of Argentinian style dishes such as pizzas, sandwiches, pastas, and various Milanesa dishes. But there is something I just find so brilliant in the empanada; the meaty filling wrapped up in a baked buttery dough pouch is truly the perfect all in one meal.The kitchen is still getting its sea legs, so the owner encouraged me to come by when things really get going. If the empanadas are any indication of what good can come from the kitchen, Pampa's is bound to serve some truly great dishes. Best to keep an eye on this place...just don't look too closely at the decor.

Pampa's Bakery
2156 S Highland Dr
(801) 738-8058
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Pampas Bakery on Urbanspoon 

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