Pilar Opens as NYC’s First Authentic Cuban Bakery

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.

Pilar Cuban Bakery Sign | Photo by Lily Brown

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.

Cuban Savories

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.

Croquetas and Rellenos | Photo by Lily Brown
Empanadas | Photo by Lily Brown

Cuban Bread

Cuban bread, a soft, pillowy, white baguette, is proofed and baked in house, and available both traditional-style with lard and without.

Cuban Sandwiches

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.

Drunken Plantain Tart | Photo by Lily Brown
Dulce du Leche Brownies | Photo by Lily Brown
Key Lime Pie | Photo by Lily Brown
Red Velvet Flan | Photo by Lily Brown

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).

Pilar’s Roots

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.

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Houston’s Angelucho CopaCabana: A Commanding Voices on the Tropical Music Scene

If you love Cuban culture and are lucky enough to live in Houston and don’t already know the area’s long-time Cuban singer Angel “Angelucho” Bermúdez, now is your opportunity. He has long been dubbed among locals, Houston’s most elegant Salsa artist, boasting one of the most commanding voices on the tropical music scene: a graceful baritone that handles slow Boleros with romanticism and lively Salsas with verve.

His vibrant interpretations of the hot modern Latin rhythms with resonating brass and piano runs hearkens back to the golden age of Cuban music of the 1950s as well as the brassy and modern sounds of the New York Salsa and Cuban-influences Miami-sound rhythms. Angelucho’s excellent timing, unique inspirations, and his overall Latin soul have made him a favorite in Houston and other parts of the nation for many years.

Cuban music lovers will delight in sample tracks like “Realidad Y Fantasia” from the CD “Soy Latino” and his compilation on SoundCloud, or check out his new recording under the guidance of producer/composer Rainel Pino features such great artists as the one and only Papo Lucca of “Sonora Ponceña” fame on piano, René Lorente on flute, and Kachiro Thompson on congas. He is also accompanied by Douglas Guevara on timbal, Jorge “Cro Cro” Orta on congas, and Ernesto Camilo Vega on saxophone.

The musical production is entitled “Soy Latino” and contains ten songs that range from Montuno, Bolero, Cha Cha Cha, Charangón to today’s popular Salsa. As always, Angelucho’s voice is endearing and the arrangements are modern and swinging, making his new Compact Disc a must for serious “Salsero”.

Get to know more about Angelucho’s CopaCabana. For more information, visit his website at angeluchocopabana.com or call 281-799-1922 for bookings.

Why Starbucks to Go is Illogical: Thoughts of a Seated Observer

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?

espresso-at-cafe
My husband and I lingering over an espresso and people watching in Paris for the better part of an hour (of course, we enjoyed it while it was still warm).

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.

Austin Int’l Chefs, Artists Share Favorite Dishes from Abroad

I believe there’s more for local travel enthusiasts to learn about international dishes just by stepping into their backyard than by reading a second-hand account in a book, blog or television program about a country first. That’s why this series of articles will be based on the advice of local business owners whose cultural influences have not simply intrigued- but shaped them, allowing the essence of a culture to become their very livelihood.

It’s because getting travel advice about international food that comes from the heart of someone that shares for a living forms an experience you can trust. It’s bound to feed more than your senses. A peer or friend’s opinion, or even a review on where the best international dishes are in your backyard might be a place to start, but read on in our series for the thoughts of true connoisseurs who’ve been influenced abroad and now share their learnings.

Our hope is that getting to know cultures through food favorites of local businesses will guide you to stumble upon something new that you didn’t know you’d love.

Read on as four Austin business owners share their favorite dishes, including why they enjoy the food, and where they remember it best prepared abroad.

From Colombia: Ajiaco con Pollo

Astrid is a local artist that owns Astrid’s Colombian Jewelry, a handmade shop in Austin featuring beautiful accessories from bracelets to earrings and necklaces made from natural materials like nuts and fruits, like in her native Colombia. Her favorite dish is a soup called Ajiaco con Pollo, from her state of Cundinamarca. Ajiaco is made with chicken, green peas and carrots, and different kinds of potatoes, including yellow or Andes potatoes, whichever can be found locally in Austin.


Ajiaco Con Pollo / Source: Sabores de Mi Tierra Facebook

The soup is made with guascas, a plant from the daisy family used for seasoning, which can be found in the Altiplano Cundiboyacense in the eastern Colombian Andes Mountains. “Colombia has a [rich] variety of food depending on where you are located… and everything is pretty yummy,” Astrid shared. She’s enjoyed this dish in her home state, and for the travel enthusiast recommends the small Colombian town of Machetá in the state of Cundinamarca because of it’s good food, but also amazing views, friendly people and outstanding landscapes.

From Cuba: Sandwich Cubano

When we asked Iska, the owner of south Austin’s genuine Cuban eatery Cuba512, formerly Guantanamera, what his favorite Cuban dish was, he said it was most definitely the Sandwich Cubano—the quintessential Cuban Sandwich because it’s so simple and delicious. “The ingredients inside a Cuban sandwich are simple: ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and every Cuban sandwich needs Cuban bread,” he shared. He also explained that although comparable to French or Italian bread, Cuban bread has a different baking method and ingredient list which makes the difference.


Sandwich Cubano / Source: Cuba512 Facebook

A native of Cuba, he recalled having the best Cuban sandwich in the city of Bayamo. He said that there the sandwich he had was made with pork, lechon in Spanish, roasted with firewood from the local hills. When considered, it’s understandable why the version of the sandwich served at Cuba512—coupled with a thoughtful ambiance and signature drinks like a crisp mojito—the restaurant maintains an esteemed level of authenticity to get you as close to Cuba as you can get in Austin.

From Jordan: Maamoul (also known as Kombe)

Ali, the owner of food truck Austin’s Habibi tucked below a towering skyscraper downtown, turned his childhood passion and family legacy into a local eatery. He serves the type of fresh, healthy and flavorful food that the eastern Mediterranean is known for, from Greece to the Middle East. While he features a number of savory dishes for locals to try, he also recalls his favorite dessert—a small, shortbread cookie called Kombe, in Turkey, but also known as Maa’moul in Jordan, where he had the best version of the treat because of its tasty and plentiful when served.


Maa’moul or Kombe / Source: Cardamom Rose Bakery Facebook

A native of the eastern Mediterranean, he especially enjoys Greece, a reason for the Greek influence in the dishes he serves. When he came to Austin, he decided to open the same type of eateries he grew with abroad while working with his father. Offering a taste of home, he also seems to remind us that no meal is ever complete without dessert. Curious cultural enthusiasts should stay tuned as Austin’s Habibi will be opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant soon.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Book this deal for just $1 and Get $12+ in Exclusive Savings at Austin’s Habibi

From Peru: Lomo Saltado

Miguel owns and runs the downtown Austin food truck Llama’s Peruvian Creole. Although his favorite Peruvian dish varies, he’s a big fan of Lomo Saltado, which his eatery also serves up. The dish is “a beef tenderloin stir-fry over steak fries and garlic rice to soak it all up,” he shared. In the version served at Llama’s, Miguel includes homemade sauces on the side, such as Rocoto, Huancaina, and Anticuchera.

Lomo Saltado / Source: Llama’s Peruvian Creole

“I’ve tried Lomo Saltado all over Perú. Besides finding quality beef perfectly cooked and smoky, the Huacatay sauces I encounter in Perú are uniquely delicious,” he shared. In his book, Perú always wins when it comes to ingredients because there’s nothing like a well-prepared dish served in the coastal South American country. He invites curious cultural enthusiasts to stop by Llama’s on September 4th for a free sample during its first annual Lomo Saltado Day.

Ready to explore more about Colombia, Cuba, Jordan or Peru? Let these few favorites be your guide. In Austin, if you look closely there is a slice of so many countries that you can start to explore locally.

4 Miami Eateries for an Authentic Taste of the Caribbean

If you’re planning to leave the turquoise blue water of Miami to run off to the sister beaches of the Caribbean this summer, consider sampling the perfected flavors of some of its most pristine cuisines locally before you go. Below are 4 places you can experience authentic Caribbean food in Miami.

El Exquisito Restaurant / Origin, Cuba

Being devoted to the art of cooking is one reason El Exquisito Restaurant’s Cuban owners Juan Coro, and his uncle, have gained a loyal following in Miami’s Little Havana. Tucked near the Tower Theatre, the restaurant is known for its deliciously authentic Cuban food in the heart of this enclave ever since it opened in 1974. For a true taste of Cuban culture one must only stop in here and have a coffee—but some food first.

Diners are treated to appetizers like Mariquitas (banana chips), sandwiches from the classic Cubano to Medianoche (the Cubano’s sister made with sweet bread), and meat entrees like Ropa Vieja (shredded beef) and fall-of-the-bone Lechon Asado (roast pork), fresh seafood platters, as well as sides like white rice and beans, sweet plantains or petite fry chips, along with daily specials Diners can sit cafeteria style or casually at tables. Coffee from the Corta Dito to the traditional café con leche are winners.

Clives Café / Origin, Jamaica

This little gem has been dubbed a diamond in Miami’s Little Haiti, known for its personable and laidback owners, as well as its cool vibe despite its small interior—it is unpretentious. Named ‘Best Jamaican Restaurant’ by the Miami NewTimes, given its institutional status while located in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood since the mid-70s.

Cooking ‘made with love,’ as the family-run establishment says on its website, Clive’s (named for the owner’s son) opened by Pearline Murray and her late husband Clifford, has been serving its authentic Jamaican food for nearly 40 years. Dishes range from oxtails and beef patties, to deliciously spicy jerk and curry chicken, as well as curry goat and rich stews—complete with a cool glass of Jamaican gingered Sorrel. Clive’s also serves its entrees with rice and beans, plantains or even fried chicken and mac-and-cheese (from its former diner days serving local factory workers)—taking a flavorful spin on traditional Jamaican cuisine and Caribbean staples that’ll warm the heart, too.

Tap Tap Restaurant / Origin, Haiti

Looking at its colorful walls adorned with tropical murals from Haitian artists local and abroad, you’ll need to just grab a handmade chair to feel the vibrancy of Haiti come through in just the atmosphere of Tap Tap Restaurant, situated just a short walk from Miami Beach on 5th Street. Relaxed compared to the bustle of the beach, Tap Tap Restaurant features a no-frills attitude in its simple décor that makes customers feel instantly at home and on vacation all at the same time.

From appetizers like Arka (Malanga fritters) dipped in watercress dipping sauce to diverse entrees such as the Kribish Kreyol (spiced oxtails to plump shrimp in rich coconut sauce) accompanied by a mix of rice and beans, patrons are sure to get their fill in rich flavor. The dishes aren’t cheap but considered worth their weight. Also, try a mojito—it’s been known to be the best in South Beach for a few years running.

Bahamian Connection Grill / Origin, Bahamas

Family-owned since it originally opened in the late 70s as a restaurant, the owners of Bahamian Connection Grill have always incorporated the support of their wives and children in the restaurant’s establishment over the years, especially after its founding by family Patriarch Arlington ‘Big Links’ Ingraham, who was born in the Bahamas. Located at the Bahamian Connection Village near Miami’s midtown.

The food is the real deal, from his ‘famous’ recipes for Bahamian boiled fish and grits, to buttery Johnny Cake reminiscent of Nassau, and steamed, tender and well-seasoned conch included in rich stews and tangy salads. This local place accompanies its entrees with staples such as peas and rice, greens, mac-and-cheese, and slaw—sometimes you’ll find live music, too, all within this authentic spot situated in a quaint, central neighborhood.

6 Ways to Use What’s in Your Backyard to Beat Travel Barriers

It’s vacation season in the United States, but even so Americans are often led in our culture to believe that traveling is greatest when it’s a college rite of passage, or better yet, scheduled when we’re not busy at work—or best yet, a luxury to be enjoyed in old age.

Why? Because we’re taught that at any other point in our life, exploring so greatly is simply inefficient. We’ve been led to believe we don’t have enough money, time or courage to be curious about other people, or that travel is a hassle best for when it least disrupts us.

These are self-imposed cultural barriers. Now, here’s hoping the half of Americans with passports don’t mind elbowing their way through another 150 million peers who haven’t traveled abroad, but let me share 6 reasons why it’s important. Whichever half you fall into, when was the last time you took the euphoric plunge into something new?

If you haven’t ever or even recently stepped off a plane—or into your backyard—and into a different culture or country, then these 6 tips are for you.

Me, scared sh*tless until she saw the view with Europe’s tallest mountain behind her.

1. Change routines to put more time on your side.

Our American work culture makes it hard to take long vacations, and it’s easy to feel guilty or even too busy to be far away or out of touch for long periods. So, try changing the way you treat the time you have outside of work. Find unique ways to break away from the typical afternoon or weekend by getting to know the world through authentic cultural experiences locally.

Dream of the Caribbean? Start salsa lessons. Find out what you want to learn more about, and you’ll covet your free time. It’s up to you to live beyond the nine-to-five. Time can’t be saved, but it can be invested.

2. Examine activities that improve the value of a dollar.

If you’re constantly letting costs and logistics prevent you from experiencing new things, then you don’t know one simple truth. Logistics are a part of everything we buy, and by getting hung up on every little decision, you’d never buy anything. Look at the money you do have, and then a closer look at your philosophy for living life. Ask yourself if you’re fulfilled in your current lifestyle investments. Reevaluate what investments are truly worth your resources.

For $20 you can go to Cuba—try a Cuban restaurant nearby, ask the owners about their culture, and try some new flavors. These types of new activities can inspire you to travel with the money you do have.

Check out upcoming exclusive events for exploring cultures in Austin. More »

3. That’s it, take a couple more steps out of your comfort zone.

If unknown flavors and cultures pique your curiosity, but you aren’t courageous enough to be adventurous, take a deep breath in and ask yourself why. Then tell yourself that every person and place you know today was once a step outside of your comfort zone. What you enjoy eating and doing today was something you once tried for the first time. Friends and acquaintances, at one point were strangers to you.

To get to know the world, take a couple steps and start locally. If you saw a show on Mexico, then find the nearest Mexican restaurant. Explore your city for people and things from around the world that you’ve heard about; you just don’t know you’ll love yet. Do that enough, and you’ll realize just how small this world really is, and that your backyard holds a lot of it.

4. Use your passions to overcome your circumstances.

Our circumstances set easy stumbling blocks in the way of travel if we don’t examine them closely. What notions of the future may not be leaving any room for you to explore today? What you chose to do today may be leaving more exciting doors unopened. If you love coffee then stop settling for the chain, and find an authentic Italian café or coffee class nearby tomorrow. If you’re seeking triumph up the corporate ladder, take another minute break and keep reading.

As Americans, we need to stop graduating, working and retiring to travel. Don’t become complacent because of daily—or worse, cultural expectations. Don’t settle for chain coffee. Open a new door, and you’ll add cool memories and quality to your life starting today.

5. Look for people eager to share something with you.

Don’t just try a new international restaurant, salsa class or espresso bar. Step outside and now ask yourself what else you can’t do. As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a beautiful, vast and very diverse country. It could take a lifetime just to see all of the regional and geographic diversity of the United States alone. Make that a goal, but you don’t have to go far to experience our cultural kaleidoscope.

Nearly a quarter, over 80 million of us recently immigrated here. Open the eyes of your soul and you’ll start to see the wealth of experiences, destinations and people eager to share their talents, heritage and firsthand international experiences from abroad right in your own neighborhood.

When you travel to celebrate something, that feeds your senses. When you go somewhere for no reason, that feeds the heart. Cross the boundaries of your own city for something new and fun, and you’ll find that people smile in the same language.

6. You don’t know what you don’t know, so find it.

If you’ve got a global outlook on travel, you’re almost ready to go. Look around you first. People around you might minimize the importance of world travel because, well, they don’t know what they don’t know. To them, other people might seem scary, strange and unapproachable—because of what they have only perceived. By traveling you can help to dispel myths and break down these barriers.

Once you truly see the cultures and traditions, languages and faces around you, they are no longer left to your imagination. Maybe that’s why it’s been said that travel is the ultimate form of diplomacy. Get out there locally and find something new in your own backyard.

True triumph over travel barriers comes when we learn to value the experience—not after we return but before we step on the plane. By relishing in travel’s enriching authenticity beforehand, traveling is simpler. Americans can change our outlook on international travel simply by changing how we interact with the people, places and things that are all around us.

Go explore something new today.