When she climbed in next to me after helping her family into the back seat, I apologized for the smell, “I’m sorry – there’s an empanada in that bag, and it’s very fragrant.”
She asked me where I’d gotten it.
“Sweet Heart Coffee,” I said, “Someone who reads my blog told me they had excellent Argentine empanadas.”
“And? Are they good?” the doctor asked.
“Well…they’re good if you’re not expecting an Argentine empanada. The chicken one has black beans and olives. And the beef one is full of peppers and onions and not so much meat. The dough is pretty thick, too.”
I told her about the amazing empanadas I’d tasted in northwest Argentina, about their feather-light dough, their juiciness, their clay oven crispiness.
“You’re never going to find those here,” she said.
An hour later, when I was cashing out at the garage, Daniel – the former cabbie from Argentina who inspired this empanada quest – said the same thing: “I’ve been searching for 20 years, and I still haven’t found it. But we have so many good things to eat here.”
So why am I determined to go after something that probably only exists in another hemisphere?
I’m sure nostalgia has something to do with it. But it’s also about testing the theory that you can find anything you want in New York. Anything…but a stellar Argentine empanada?
Daniel seems a little mystified by the whole enterprise, but I can tell he’s interested in the possibility of a great empanada, “Let me know if you find it,” he said, handing me my receipt.
“You’ll be the first to know,” I told him.
Sweet Heart Coffee
69 8th Ave between 13th St & Greenwich Av – West Village
Note: There’s no sign, but the shop is just to the left of Shoegasm on the west side of the street. Empanadas come in four flavors: beef, chicken, pumpkin and spinach. I tried all but the spinach. Pumpkin had a strange, old dried herb after-taste, and I wouldn’t order it again. I liked the beef, but there wasn’t enough meat and it was ground, which pretty much ruins it for me. Chicken was my favorite, but with black beans and black olives, it was more Mexican than Argentine (To be fair, it was advertised that way). This one would be delicious with a few slices of avocado.
The empanadas at La Porteña are next on this quest. (This restaurant is closed on the weekends.)