Thursday, December 24, 2009
Empanada Kitchen, 1551 28th St SW - 12/24/09
Look up “empanada” and you will see a long history of world-wide variations on a theme. But you don’t need to google it - just check out www.EmpanadaKitchen.com and you can read all about it. The restaurant is located in a small, free-standing building on the southwest side; we drove past it the first time. We parked at the neighboring corner business and walked over. What greeted us was blaring Mexican-flavored music and no one in the place but a woman behind the counter. It was apparent we needed to order at the counter so after having selected our booth, we stepped up to see the menu. The woman gave us a wave as she disappeared in the kitchen and the music continued to blast. After about five minutes, she returned and tried to answer our questions regarding the menu, but the language barrier was huge. She finally turned down the radio and tried to assist us in ordering. It was pretty confusing as we tried to understand her and read from the menus and charts available. We finally got two empanadas ordered each and then had to tackle the “sides”. More confusion. We finally just ordered/pointed to the sides we could see at the counter buffet and called it good. The friendly woman directed us to the cooler to select a beverage, selections of which were pretty limited.
We waited at our booth for our food and checked out the surroundings. (The woman continued to play her music, at a reduced volume, and at times was heard singing along.) There are 5 tables and 2 booths, each holding 4 people (ours sloped down from the wall). Decor is light: one painting, 2 Mexican wall pieces, 1 air conditioner, and the obligatory Christmas wreath. A small table held coffee mugs for sale, and a beverage cooler was present running loud. A customer came in wearing a hoodie and knit cap. He patiently waited at the counter until she brought out our order. Then he ordered 12 empanadas to go, and sat in a chair directly in front of and facing the cooler and didn’t move until his order was ready. He made me feel uneasy and I’m not sure why. (I surreptitiously moved my cash from my wallet to my jeans pocket - sorry paranoia, you win.)
Our food was bought out and we ended up with one platter holding two fajita beef empanadas, with meatballs and vegetables as its sides, and one platter holding a fajita beef empanada and a chicken empanada, with sides of beans and vegetables. The empanadas were really quite good; lightly deep fried, the pastry was flavorful and the meat/cheese combinations were tasty. The sides were odd choices for a Mexican restaurant and fared much worse. The vegetables had some flavor, but were overcooked and mushy, as expected at a buffet offering. Meatballs and beans were ok but nothing special. The empanada pastry tasted homemade. The sophisticated website belies the actual atmosphere of the restaurant, which is interesting in itself. We were wondering how a one, or maybe two, person restaurant could afford a 28th street location and stay in business (please don’t be a front for drug-running). The website lists three locations, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Ann Arbor, all of which state “coming soon”. So perhaps this isn’t an independent local effort? Catering services are offered and an owner and manager are listed on the business card for this location, both women. Check it out if you like an out-of-the-ordinary restaurant, not-a-national-chain-restaurant, and are fond of empanadas. Our next empanadas will be taken to go.