Chef and Owner of Bed-Stuy’s popular Pilar Cuban Eatery, Ricardo Barreras, has been introducing Cuban food to New Yorkers for almost 10 years. He now brings NYC its first authentic Cuban bakery with the opening of Pilar Cuban Bakery today, Thursday, January 31.
Cuban bakeries are the heart and soul of the Cuban community in Miami where Ricardo grew up, but he was surprised to find NYC lacking a proper one. Pilar Cuban Bakery is next door to the restaurant.
The bakery serves an array of savory and sweet Cuban treats throughout the day, including pastelitos or pastries with fillings ranging from ham and cheese to guava and cream cheese.
The bakery also feature croquettes and empanadas such as empanada gallega (Spanish meat pie filled with cod or chorizo), as well as Cuban tamales made with ground fresh corn, sofrito and roast pork or seafood.
Cuban bread, a soft, pillowy, white baguette, is proofed and baked in house, and available both traditional-style with lard and without.
The bread stars in Pilar’s Cuban Sandwich along with smoked bone-in ham and house mojo-marinated slow roasted pork, and will also be used to make other sandwiches like:
The Croqueta Preparada (a Cuban with two ham croquettes)
The Elena Ruth (turkey, cream cheese, strawberry and guava jam)
The Porkinator with pork five ways – housemade chorizo, ham croquettes, ham-pimento spread, Serrano ham and chicharrones
Cuban Sweet Treats
Those with a sweet tooth can absolutley find both authentic and inspired Cuban desserts which include, Drunken Plantain Tart, Key Lime Pie, cookies like Torticas de Moron, Dulce de Leche Brownies, Tropical Layer Cake, and Red Velvet Cream Cheese Cake Flan.
Cuban Coffee is a Must
Coffee is a major part of Cuban life and Pilar Cuban Bakery will have a coffee window like the ones in Miami’s Little Havana where Cubans gather to discuss politics over coffee. For many Cubans, the day starts with a breakfast ritual – Cuban bread toasted with butter and dipped into café con leche. The bakery will also serve the group-friendly colada, sweetened shots of espresso in a vessel that allows guests to share it amongst themselves. Non-coffee drinks include Batidos (Cuban milkshakes) made with tropical fruits like papaya, mamey (sapote) and guanabana (soursop).
Ricardo got his start serving empanadas and Cuban sandwiches at Brooklyn Flea before he and his wife Lisbeth opened the original Pilar Cuban Eatery in a 350 square foot space on Classon Avenue in the fall of 2009. The tiny space was perpetually packed and received praise from The New York Times, among others. With such a small space and limited kitchen, Ricardo moved the restaurant in 2015 to its current space on the corner of Bedford and Greene Avenues.
Pilar Cuban Bakery is located at 397 Greene Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, right next to Pilar Cuban Restaurant. For more information, call the restaurant at (347) 350-9037 or visit it’s website at pilarny.com.
If you really love travel and culture, I’ve got a message for you this holiday season that I hope you will share with others.
It wasn’t because there was any particular pride in a culture that was behind our start. But, rather, the opposite.
We started in 2015 to give folks a platform to cultivate a sense of understanding, empathy, and love by experiencing them all—led by our local partners and HUNDREDS of member travel enthusiasts in Austin, NYC, DC and growing.
As we start the holiday season, in a time when our immigrants and their cultures have been alienated when they should be embraced for the perspective they have brought for over two hundred years, this message of LOVE is important.
Because in actuality, culture is a beautiful illusion.
Why? Because it is something that we perceive with our senses so that it’s only a reflection of people and places.
The smell and taste of food.
The sights of travel.
The sound of music.
Think about it. It’s all just a reflection of the person or people who created it and the place that adopted it.
There are nearly 200 nations but over 6,000 organized cultures worldwide. In the U.S., we are fortunate to get a “taste” for nearly all of them, I’m willing to bet.
How often do we really get to know the person or place intimately—in a way that’s beyond our own perception of it? I mean, how often do we perceive with our mind and heart what culture is trying to tell us about people and places through these reflections of food, drink, music and more.
When we read a book, a blog or watch a show about a country, its great, but we still absorb and translate it OUR way because it’s handed down through a secondary resource, whether that be a blogger or a friend.
But what if we learned from the source? From someone who is a first hand expert in the culture.
That’s why we see international restaurant owners, boutique curators, musicians, and other artisans in our backyards and their craft as the ultimate resource at MezzeCulture—immigrants and representatives of the world at our fingertips.
We are a community of travel enthusiasts who come together at our pop up events hosted by these local partners who share a unique cultural narrative through their craft—to encourage those half of Americans without passports to travel and those who have to do more of it.
If you choose to subscribe, I thank YOU from my heart for being a part of US.
If you identify with our message this holiday season, please do share us with your friends in Austin, Washington DC, New York, and even Miami, Houston, and San Francisco where we will grow soon.
And please don’t forget to subscribe your email for invites to our exclusive events and check out our upcoming list.
Look at this parking lot in front of a Starbucks—empty. Evidence of about a half dozen cars that have come and gone in the last 20 minutes after stopping to “grab some Starbucks”. This makes me think… and want to share some thoughts to simmer on. I love to walk into Starbucks and grab a tall Pike or Veranda blend and sit for a moment. During one of those moments, I contemplated why some people stop at a cafe—Starbucks or otherwise—grab a drink and go. Sure, they may be in a hurry, or need their daily caffeine fix.
If people are in that much in a hurry, then why not stop at a gas station or through a fast food drive-thru to “grab” a coffee or beverage? Whether it’s for an espresso, cafe au lait, or cafe Cubano, or a drip—stop and savor it.
Why bother to stop at a cafe, get out of your car, wait in line and then leave again? Is it the taste these people crave? the quality? the status of a brand like Starbucks or other inter/national chain? If you grab-and-go no one is going to see it anyway. Furthermore, by rushing off, you’re not going to fully enjoy your beverage. Imagine this: you will probably sit in traffic, rush through a store or forget your drink in the car to melt away… so why not save some money and even some time by by-passing cafes all together?
Traditional cafes are for sitting. Have people simply forgotten that Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and other American coffee establishments fall into this category? That’s part of the reason they, and all other cafes, are pricier than the average gas station or drive-thru offerings. People are not paying extra for convenience either (what’s convenient about waiting in line?), they’re paying for the atmosphere, but are not using it like it’s intended to be enjoyed (unless they’re camped out inside to work).
5 more people have come and gone since I started this note. In all of the other countries that I can think of that I have visited, the cafe is a beautiful place were people get their coffee or beverage, sit down and then take in or establish some quality of life: A chat with a friend perhaps, a cigarette, or just to watch the day in motion.
I know that here in America, our popular culture is oftentimes a fast-paced- want-it-now-not-in-five-minutes kind of society, but there is so much more to be enjoyed when you stop and smell the coffee sometimes.
From France to San Francisco, you’ll find coffee enthusiasts enjoying numerous varieties of coffee beans prepared in every way imaginable, but in Paris, for example, you may find patrons sipping their coffee just a bit slower than their American counterparts. Sure, in a quality-conscious society the traits of the bean and its extraction are important to us, but let’s not forget the character behind coffee consumption.
When taking in these 4 European coffees at coffee shops across America, don’t rush. Consider the character of the European social experience, which includes an expertly prepared coffee that’s typically enjoyed while lingering at a cafe and taking in a bit of quality life.
Café con Leche / Origin, Spain
This coffee treat, meaning “coffee with milk” in Spanish, is a popular breakfast stable in communities around the world, such as the Philippines, but most common in Spain and Latin American countries, such as Cuba. Cafe con leche is traditionally made with strong or bold coffee, usually espresso beans, that is then mixed with scalded milk.
Lattes / Origin, Italy
A latte, the shortened form of the Italian caffè latte, consists of espresso and steamed milk. The method of producing latte art is created by expertly pouring the steamed milk’s foam into the shot of espresso to produce a design on the surface of the latte. It’s a difficult art that depends on the quality of the espresso machine, the temperature of steamed milk and the experience of the barista.
Irish Coffee / Origin, Ireland
This coffee treat, meaning “caife Gaelach” in Irish, is served hot and is made with either espresso or brewed coffee poured over with whiskey, sugar and (not whipped) cream floated on top. Usually enjoyed in the evening, it’s become popular in communities around the world, such as Spain (where the whiskey, coffee and cream are poured in layers), Irish coffee as it’s known today was invented by an Irish chef in the 1940s.
Espresso / Origin, Italy
This coffee treat is a popular stable in communities around the world, and originated in Italy, where it’s consumption. Espresso is both a brewing method and a beverage, and although any bean or roast level can be used in it’s preparation, it’s extraction requires specialized skill and equipment. Served as either a single (solo) or double shot (dopio), espresso is enjoyed prepared across a variety of the world’s most popular espresso beans today.
When I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico through the Vista Leadership Academy last November, I became really interested in mezcal. Created from the agave plant, the same plant tequila is made from, the word mezcal stands for elixir of the gods. Making mezcal is a lucrative business, with many families and small farms creating the smokey spirit alongside their crops in Oaxaca. So lucrative in fact, that now it’s in high demand across the United States.
D.C.’s Espita Mezcaleria serves the largest selection of mezcal in the United States. Their bar is piled high with many different mezcals, which you can drink straight or have in a cocktail.
What’s interesting about this restaurant is that the owners buy from truly local Oaxacan sellers. The server taking care of our table travels to Oaxaca pretty often himself to learn how to make it and aspires to one day work as a distiller.
Besides the mezcal, their food is delicious as well. I reminisced about the street food stands surrounding Santo Domingo, the main church marking the center of Oaxaca city, when I dove into a chorizo tlayuda.
I can’t wait to go back and try the mole and tacos. Sustainable restaurants that benefit local communities are incredibly important, especially in today’s restaurant scene.
Do you have a favorite restaurant with this concept?
For Elias, among the earliest memories of his Ethiopian childhood is being with the neighborhood children whose job was to call in all the locals for the daily coffee ceremony. In Ethiopia, the two hour ceremony isn’t just a time to drink coffee, but for people to catch up over not just one, but three distinct rounds of the brew. It was an important part of chatting, whether about the day’s news and politics or to share information—most importantly for Elias he knew the ceremony was the heart of building community in his town.
Today together with his wife Sarina, both big travelers, Elias Gurmu is the owner of Café Buunnii a shop featuring micro roasted Ethiopian coffee in NYC’s Washington Heights neighborhood. He is also getting ready to open Buunni’s second location in Riverdale. Drawing on his influences as a child, Elias took on his first job after high school as a barista, Sarina shared. She continued to say that today coffee is still a part of his daily life and an important way to highlight the positive aspects of Ethiopian culture beyond the focus of contemporary culture like famine or poverty or other topics that try to overshadow the country’s inner beauty.
Growing up in a heavy Southeast Asian tea culture in Nepal and south Asia, Sarina’s experiences in Ethiopia were her introduction to coffee’s place in daily life. Not only how much time goes into the farming—but its where she also developed an appreciation for its preparation.
“The name, Buunni, is based on the Amharic word for Buuna, which is the Ethiopian word for coffee and Buunni is both a playoff and representative of the brown color of the coffee bean,” said Sarina. Connecting both the country and the authentic coffee culture of Ethiopia was important in the concept for the shop.
Two very Ethiopian beverages can be found on the menu at Café Buunni, including the Buuna, which is served in a little glass exactly as you’d find in a café in Ethiopia. Second, the Makiyato, or Macchiato as its commonly known, is also served in glass after being layered beautifully with milk, although familiar its portion is smaller than what you may be used to in the U.S.
Both coffee beverages are very pervasive in Ethiopia, especially in rural areas—in fact, for the shop it’s often that patrons will stop in for a makiyato and say, ‘This is just how I remember,’ or they’ll have the Buuna and comment on how they haven’t had it in years, Sarina described the conversations. “It can quickly transport you to a place, and for people who haven’t been to Ethiopia those two drinks can really bring it home.”
The shop uses the Ethiopian Arabica bean, including the Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar coffee beans which come directly from Ethiopia. Coffee first originated in the country, which features locally differentiated types of beans with unique flavor profiles depending on the soil and altitude. Sarina explained to us that the varietals are from different regions and the names of the coffees are named for the places they originate from.
“It’s specialty coffee and very much rooted in the culture of the country. In many places, there’s large scale farming, but a lot of people have coffee growing in their backyards and drink and share it as a family, so it’s very much a local tradition.” In a global city like New York the universal concept of the culture can be easily understood.
One thing you won’t find at Café Buunni is rush hour. “The experience [at Buunni] is not a fast, quick jolt to get you started; it’s slow coffee,” Sarina laughed. While it’s not to-go coffee New Yorkers expect in their jaunt through the work day, the coffee shop does strike a balance between a true Ethiopian coffee experience and the New York City lifestyle. “We really try to stress the aspect of community, and coffee being a vehicle for getting the community together—for quality time with friends and family.”
“The café doesn’t try to overtly be Ethiopian, but there are elements we use [like] the traditional Ethiopian coffee pot, the art, and the sound of the machines we use. It’s a blend—it’s an Ethiopian experience in a way that’s translated to this context [of New York City].” Buunni Coffee is very much a NYC café, but it’s infused with the values of what Ethiopian culture brings to the city.
In a sense, the shop sort of serves like a bridge to a broader sense of the city’s local culture—rather than walking in and saying it looks like Ethiopia, patrons walk into something familiar that they know, like familiar décor and baked goods, and then take a step further to meet something new that they didn’t know.
The café hosts both people who come in to take coffee to-go, but the defining feeling of the space is for those patrons who like to linger, to sit, to sip and to chat. The couple’s value for a sense of community is also a part of the reason they deliberately source and support local businesses in their shop—from displaying handmade scarves from a women’s co-op in Ethiopia’s capital and largest city Addis Ababa, to a rotation of local art including Ethiopian artists, and even the chocolate they get from a local supplier to use in their coffee drinks.
While ceremonies for groups aren’t possible in the shop due to its size, the couple does perform coffee ceremonies by request at offices or in people’s homes—a way to share the experience with others. But that doesn’t diminish the defining qualities of the coffee shop, especially for Elias whose personal story and shop embodies the cultural aspects and hospitality of how the coffee is traditionally served.
“He’s very much a part of the [Ethiopian] story, and people like to talk to him about the coffee and the coffee culture, for recommendations and to try something new,” Sarina told us about her husband. “He very much enjoys that and making drinks for people.”
Attention to people is at the center of their operation at Buunni, especially the people in the process of getting coffee-to-cup. The couple pays close attention to the fact that coffee farmers in Ethiopia run small farms and there are a lot of people involved in growing the coffee. “There is a lot of respect for the people who are growing this very special coffee,” Sarina explained.
“All of the passion that goes into the coffee—it’s essentially one coffee cherry that’s picked at a time, and that takes passion, time, love, and expertise.” The couple tries to always, even when training their staff, be extremely mindful that coffee is not just the commodity contemporary culture makes it out to be.
“A lot of people will comment that there is a self-respect and pride in Ethiopia—in the culture, the history, and the quality of things like the coffee. But it’s not an arrogant pride, but rather the satisfaction of being proud of something that you’ve cultivated to able to share.” In other words, it’s that kind of pride that communicates the value of Ethiopian coffee culture, and not for the farmers themselves but rather so that they can pass it down to others. It’s about community.
Forget the popularity of latte art for a moment, and let’s explore the famed art of espresso. It’s considered the real coffee art in many parts of the world, especially in European countries, but to a degree seldom known or knowingly experienced by the everyday Joe—or cup thereof in the US. For American coffee aficionados in-the-know however, the difference of taste in filtered home brewed coffee versus the delicate intricacies of perfectly prepared espresso is like comparing hurried pencil scribbles with the distinction of a Monet—for the discerning eye, nose, and taste buds, the senses beholding espresso should be as discerning.
For those who don’t know espresso beyond its place on a shelf or a menu, the first difference is in the extraction: espresso coffee is extracted by forcing steam through a basket of tightly-packed, finely-ground coffee. To be consumed properly, espresso coffee is also served in small demitasse-style cupsand most popularly as single or double shot dosages.
Unlike its filter-brewed counterpart, drinking espresso coffee shouldn’t be about snuffing out a bad night’s rest, getting a caffeine fix or maintaining a kind of coffee high, but rather about maximizing flavor.
Here are seven things your taste buds should know when ordering or making your next espresso shot. Peer over your barista’s shoulder, or ask questions, but don’t settle for a bad espresso.
The origin of the coffee bean.
Find out how long your beans been roasted for in order to get the best flavor tones. If you like complex flavors like chocolate or caramel, then dark beans are for you, but if your palette prefers floral or fruit, then go for light roast espresso.
The age of the roast.
Who loves a day-old brew? You know, the kind you make and put in the fridge for later. Yeah, no one really. The same goes for weeks- or day-old roasted beans. Make sure you’re using freshly roasted coffee beans or capsules, whether you do it yourself, or trust your favorite local coffee spot to use quality beans.
The age of the grind.
If the beans can’t be roasted fresh, then the grind should be. Whether you’re making espresso at home or ordering somewhere local, it’s always best to grind the beans just before pulling the shot to get the freshest flavor. If you’re using espresso capsules at home, then the grind has been pretty much perfected for you.
The texture of the grind.
No one likes weak, watery anything so mind the grind. A grind that’s too coarse can result in a badly extracted espresso with sour aftertaste. Likewise, a shot that’s pulled from a grind that’s too fine can become over-extracted and result in a burnt and pretty bitter flavor. If you’re preparing a shot at home, then just make sure to check your settings on your own machine.
The ratio of espresso to water.
Illy, for example, holds x gram dose of espresso. You’ll need X ml to make a double—or dopio, as the Italians say—shot of espresso. For a home brew machine, make sure to fill the water reservoir as instructed. Make sure the filter has warmed up and a cup is preheated to ensure the best flavor.
The cleanliness of the basket.
Nothing taints the flavor of an espresso like an oily spout. If you’re watching your espresso come out like water in a kinked hose, then the portafilter basket probably needs cleaning. A well-kept local espresso spot will know to clean their baskets frequently to maintain a high-quality product. When it comes to your own machine, take note that your basket is clean and dry.
The cherry crema on top.
When pouring an espresso, you’ll want the crema, the peace crème de la resistance, the foamy grand finale of a perfectly brewed espresso to taste smooth and sweet. It’s recommended to keep your brewing time to about 30 seconds to achieve the best result.
Lastly, don’t forget a glass of water to cleanse your palette. When considering a place to have an espresso, whether at your table or in the neighborhood, proper technique is as much part of reputation as it is taste. Most people would accept a refund for a bad espresso, because hey, some places promise to ‘make it right’ or it’s F-R-E-E. But, if you really want an authentically prepared espresso shot, then you may not want to go to those places. Here’s a hint: if the espresso machine is displayed like a work of art rather than hidden behind a counter, then you’re probably in the right place.
Here, MezzeCulture’s guests enjoyed our coffee and food pairing class hosted by Scotland-inspired Houndstooth Coffee—we learned about and tasted coffee, cheeses, and chocolate from several countries, including France, Kenya, Tanzania, Honduras, Colombia, and Guatemala. Below are some photos.
Daniel, the shop’s director of coffee and education took us through an hour long palate class, where he introduced us to the basics of how our senses affect our ability to taste different sensations—sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami flavors.
We tasted coffees from Colombia, Guatemala, Burundi, and Kenya. Houndstooth Coffee also explained how the elevation of these countries affects the acidity of the coffee. The higher the elevation, the more acidic the brew. The coffee from Kenya, for example, was paired with two different cheeses from France (a soft cheese and a hard cheese).
Our gathering was also treated to pairing of a combination of apples that we learned actually worked to complement the flavors of the Colombian coffee they were paired with.
It was fascinating to learn how aroma, acidity, flavor, body and mouthfeel all described the experience as we explored these foods and coffees from different countries. We also paired chocolates from Honduras and Tanzania with coffee from Guatemala, and learned how elevation was important to cocao farmers. The Tanzanian chocolate, for example, had a vanilla and strawberry flavor, and higher acidity which resulted in a sweeter flavor. The chocolate from Honduras had a more cherry flavor and heavier mouthfeel. I’ll bet you didn’t know that flavor is heavily linked to your sense of smell!
When it comes to visiting tearooms in Houston, some people chose tea for its health benefits, while others enjoy it for its other more sensory qualities like taste, smell, and the way it can trigger relaxation. In many part of the world, tea is eve a daily ritual, like in the British Isles and Asian countries for example, where over the centuries it has become a quintessential part of the cultures by being infused in societies.
Houston tea rooms, parlors and bars vary from those paying homage to British rituals of high-tea and afternoon tea, to expansive Asian varietals. It was Chinese scientist Shen Nung who was known to have initiated the first tea break during his travels sometime in 2700’s B.C., and today Vietnam and China are among the three largest tea exporters in the world. Couple that with Chinese and Vietnamese Americans making up the largest Asian groups in Houston, and you’ll see how easily Houstonian’s can find great places for tea locally.
Below are 8 places where tea lovers in Houston don’t have to steep long to find a cuppa (as the Brits call it).
This quaint English-inspired tearoom has two locations; one in Houston and another in Cypress, just outside of Houston’s beltway, and makes visitors feel transported to a simpler way of life. The hideaway features a variety of specialty teas, a gift shop and serves lunch of delectable tea sandwiches and desserts, as well as offers a dinner menu. 8475 Hwy 6 N, Houston and 13115 Louetta, Cypress
An English tearoom that believes your cup should be filled with happiness, creativity, peace and life, at their homey shop. Each teacup at this Houston tearoom is unique, seeking to brighten your day with premier organic teas steeped to the right time and at the perfect temperature. You can enjoy a lunch of salads, soups, quiches and desserts.
You’ll enjoy the first butter croissants and French pastries to be introduced to the Spring neighborhood at this Houston tearoom and bakery. This French-inspired shop features breakfast pastries, pies, cakes, and lunch is sure to be a treat. 820 Cypress Creek Pkwy #19, Houston
A classic English-style tea room and gift shop featuring soups and salads, where you can enjoy lunch or an afternoon tea in an elegant and relaxed setting. At Serenitea, tea is an experience from far away lands and memory of flavors; an exotic drink and sophisticated beverage for comfort, relaxation, socialization and of course health benefits. 13889 Southwest Fwy, Sugar Land
A Japanese-inspired place for tea and only totally organic tea shop in Houston, The Path of Tea features over 150 certified and carefully crafted and selected fair trade teas. Beyond great tea, it’s owners include Texas’s first and only certified Tea Master in Texas, and sought to create a shop where community is celebrated, relationships are cultivated in a place of acceptance and tolerance. 2340 W Alabama St., Houston
This Chinese-inspired tea bar has a few locations, but we recommend their Bellaire Chinatown shop for a real taste of China. The cafe features organic teas and even inspired dishes with organic rice, if you decide to stop in for a bite to eat. Customers rave about the green tea, traditional bitter Asian teas, and fruity milk teas featuring strawberry and mango flavors, as well as plates like the fish cakes and Takoyaki (a ball-shaped stuffed seafood snack). 9889 Bellaire Blvd. E211, Houston
This bubble tea and Vietnamese cafe is known for its boba (tapioca) drinks, including favorites like lavender and strawberry boba, taro and coconut milk teas. Boba drinks are refreshing and healthy, containing tapioca balls that are soft, chewy and fun to eat. The cafe also known for its Vietnamese sandwiches, Banh mi (baguette sandwiches), featuring chicken, pork, beef, and more. 10226 Hammerly Blvd., Houston
This Taiwanese cafe in Houston’s Chinatown makes its tea drinks from ingredients shipped directly from Taiwan, and prides itself on using high quality tea leaves in all its teas. The tea shop first started in Taipei City, Taiwan and has since sprouted locations around the world, including its authentic location in Houston. Get a taste of Taiwan at this shop serving up a variety of Taiwanese-inspired fruit, brewed, and milk teas, as well as cream and ice blended drinks. 9889 Bellaire Blvd. Suite E213