Statesman critic Matthew Odam’s visit to Cafe Nena’i this week started with an entirely new understanding of empanadas. Though he admits he has never visited South America, he highly praised all four varieties of the stuffed pastry: beef (“flaunts its juiciness”), chicken, spinach, and ham and cheese (which “will make you want to never again eat a ham-and-cheese sandwich not served in fried shell”).
Odam also appreciated the story behind the cafe, a partnership by Elena Sanguinetti from Paraguay and her Miami-born daughter Gladys Benitez. Sanguinetti was never allowed to help in the kitchen growing up but did a stint in pastry school as a teenager. She handles the cooking while Benitez manages the business, but Sanguinetti does cater to her daughter’s tastes in both caffeinated drinks and pastry:
[...] you can see the Cuban influences in a menu of aggressive coffee drinks like the sweet cafecito (espresso with sugar) and the colada, a cafecito on steroids. Sanguinetti adapts to her daughter’s love for Venezuelan food with a pliant arepa ($3.75) filled with scrambled eggs, ham and cheese that will have you rethinking breakfast sandwiches served on anything besides the corn-based rounds.
Given Odam’s newfound appreciation for the sweet (“a crumbly alfajor cookie pasted with shards of coconut and squeezing an ooze of dulce de leche”) and savory (he calls the chimichurri “electric”) South American offerings, plane tickets might be in his future. Then again, Cafe Nena’i seems like quite an authentic substitute.