San Antonio Bakery #2
Yesterday was the only day I’ve gone to work in a week and that was a mistake I did not repeat today. Unfortunately, Monday I still felt like death and ended up having to leave early. I wasn’t even sure if I’d make it home.
I’ve always speculated about if you’re going to faint/barf/have heart failure in public is it better to be on the subway or the sidewalk. The conscientious person in me says the sidewalk and not just because of those if you’re sick, stay off the trains public service posters. I would much appreciate it if someone who was about to keel over (especially lady dieters) had enough wits to step off the train and spare me a tangled commute.
Last night my heart was beating so hard I thought I was going into cardiac arrest, I was gushing sweat so profusely that my jeans were wet and then my strenuous coughing fits caused me to start to peeing my already disgusting pants. Twenty-four hours later and I’m still dizzy, shaky and burning up. The remarkable thing is that still have a perfectly normal appetite. Frighteningly, I can always eat. If I were terminally ill I’d probably die obese.
And this weekend I plumped up with Chilean snacks. I’m not in Astoria that often so while reviewing perfectly nice Café Soleil, I kept thinking about San Antonio Bakery #2 on the next block. I could’ve left well enough alone. I was fortified enough by a black coffee and croissant for an afternoon showing of There Will be Blood, but I would be negligent if I didn’t stock up on dulce de leche treats for later.
Witness the alfajor. Alfajores mean many things to many people. Argentine versions are more like sandwich cookies. In Peru and Bolivia they use manjar blanco (a lighter caramel) as a filling. These Chilean goodies are substantial and consist of three thin cracker-like cookies slathered with dulce de leche and rolled in shredded coconut.
Similar flavors are brought together in wedges of panqueque, thin layers of sponge cake frosted with rich caramel. (This is an old photo that I swear I'd used in my previous San Antonio Bakery missive but it doesn't appear so.)
Empanadas are another one of those million of renditions foods. These Chilean pastries are big, doughy and baked. The crusts are stuffed with chopped beef, onions, hard boiled egg, raisins and one black olive. They’re heartier and more pie-like than the Caribbean-style turnovers more commonly found around NYC. (2/26/08)
I have no idea if Chileans are known for their hospitality because I know next to nothing about the South American country, but the people who run this Astoria bakery are some of the welcoming I’ve ever encountered. I’m weird because I hate asking questions, partially because I’m reluctant to impose on others and partially because I’m phobic of looking stupid (irrational social anxiety is one of many reasons why I could never be a full on reporter). Where expatriates congregate to indulge in unsung cuisines there can often be insularity like you’ve crashed into a social club but San Antonio Bakery engenders good feelings and the desire to return.
Ruben Guzman, the owner, really wants people to stay and try things and he’s pretty convincing. I don’t even drink soda and he talked me into trying Pap, a fizzy papaya drink (there was also Bilz, possibly cherry flavored. I’m amused by the beverages’ website. They link to McGruff, the crime dog I didn’t even know still existed, except that they call him Don Graf el perro guardian). No corn syrup either unlike that bizarro “natural” 7Up. A young, hip-ish couple stopped by for a take out hot dog and he convinced them to sit at a table and dine in. It’s not like it’s atmospheric, there are no menus, just a small plastic letter board at the counter. In my experience it’s a family place, lots of large groups with kids. Sometimes soccer is on TV.
I was happy to not have to sample the hot dog (not that they make a bad version—it’s just one of my few un-American food aversions like not enjoying potato chips). On my last visit I was doing research for a South American hot dog round-up. We tried sandwiches instead, the lomito (pork) and chacarero (beef), which come on substantial yet light and chewy round rolls that are made at their Long Island location (that would be San Antonio #1) and are served on paper plates (the hot dog comes on a little red plastic stand). Order them completo and you receive tomato slices, mashed avocado and mayonnaise. You’ll also get a little crock of thin salsa called pebre. It’s a nice sandwich, neither monstrous nor dainty. It is a bit drippy and messy but you’re not likely to feel overloaded after finishing one.
I was just looking at the glass case filled with pastries in the front (half of the case contains Chilean groceries like jam in plastic bags, Robinson Crusoe canned fish and JB brand yellow mustard) and one of the workers with a moustache came over and unprompted began explaining what each thing was. I really wanted one of the alfajores that a little girl sitting near us had been eating. They look like two round crackers or digestive biscuits filled with dulce de leche and coated in meringue (some are plain and others edged in coconut). Then I got sidetracked a by a slice of cake, also filled with caramel, that he recommended. I had to have the pancake, another caramel oozing layer cake, because I was amazed by it last time. I wanted all three and didn’t realize until I got home that the counterwoman didn’t include the cookie (I didn’t get charged for it either). Damn, I had been resisting that cookie the whole ride home so I would have something to look forward to later. Thank goodness for the two slices of cake to appease me. (3/12/07)
San Antonio Bakery #2 * 36-20 Astoria Blvd., Astoria, NY