Empanadas and Alfajores at La Nueva Bakery, Jackson Heights
Tucked away from the hectic bustle of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, La Nueva Bakery is well-lit and filled with the lilting sounds of a variety of Spanish accents, the kind of spot where you can order a cafe con leche and sit for hours without any pressure to leave.
Cases burst with pastries, fresh breads line the walls, and piles of empanadas and variations on tortilla are clustered on tin foil-covered plates.
The cafe bills itself as a provider of "Antojitos Colombianos," and the selection of snacks and sweets hail primarily from Argentina and Colombia, while the owners are from Uruguay. With a neighborhood resident (and South America aficionado) as my guide, I sampled a variety of La Nueva's offerings and found excellent options to satisfy salty and sweet cravings alike.
A beef empanada ($1.50) is prepared using Argentinian technique, with a wheat-based pastry dough (rather than cornmeal), baked instead of fried. The golden-brown exterior had a rich buttery flavor and a flaky, pliant texture. Expertly rolled and shaped, it held up well against the generous filling of moist ground beef; the well-flavored meat had hint of sweetness that accentuated the empanada's rich taste.
Colombian treats include two variations on pan de queso ($1 each), made with cheese mixed in to the dough. In a simple bagel-shaped version, the salty cheese flavor was evident, and bread's interior was airy and light. The buñuelo, in contrast, was incredibly dense, and had a hint of sweetness. Made with cheese curds, it's formed in a spherical shape and deep-fried.
As for sweets, the alfajores ($1.25 each) are incredibly popular, sandwich cookies whose halves had an almost shortbread-like flavor and a powdery, crumbly consistency. Sandwiching a sticky filling of dulce de leche, the cookie was decadent without being sickeningly sweet. They also offer a chocolate covered variety.
And I'm incapable of passing up a churro filled with dulce de leche ($0.85). If the alfajor showed some restraint, the churro abandoned all pretenses of sugar control. Crisply fried, the churro shed sugar from its deep ridges. Obviously made fresh, its center revealed moist dough flecked with cinnamon. I don't know if I can imagine a better combination than a churro and dulce de leche, but I wouldn't recommend it for those who shy away from serious sugar.
On the less sugary side, opt for a vigilante ($.75). The term refers a sentinel or guard, and the pastry is the straight-shaped version of a medialuna (an Argentine take on a French croissant). Bready but light, the vigilante's flaky, layered interior had lovely hints of yeast and ample amounts of butter. Sweetened with a light sugar glaze, the pastry went perfectly with La Nueva's excellent cafe con leche ($1.25).
La Nueva Bakery
86-10 37th Avenue, Queens New York 11372 (map)
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who splits her time between New York (where she is finishing graduate school) and San Francisco (where she does most other things). She writes about food, music, travel, and everything in between. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.