In the last year, the empanada has been marching its flaky way across Long Island. Will tequeños follow suit?
If more Long Islanders baked them, possibly. Mayra Pastrano of Mayra's Bakery certainly knows her way around a tequeño, a longtime Venezuelan street snack: She comes in each day at 5 a.m. to bake the oblong puffs of dough stuffed with queso blanco (or ham) and brushed with sugar. The rest of her work — guava bread, golfeados (sticky buns), alfajores (dulce de leche cookies), croissants, Venezuelan quesadillas (which are sweet and savory), braided milk bread, cake pops and dozens of other things besides slowly fill the case each morning at the bakery she and her family opened in Lake Grove late last fall.
"It is a privilege to be able to fuse flavors from Venezuela with the American palate," said Pastrano in Spanish, as her son Amenhofis Ruiz translated and another tray of vanilla cake pops, decorated like mini-unicorns, appeared from the back.
Pastrano, Ruiz and the rest of the family moved to Long Island from Venezuela six years ago. There, in the town of Ciudad Guayana, the family ran a restaurant where the key lime pie was the hot ticket item. In Lake Grove, that honor has shifted to flaky, sugar-dusted apple turnovers, said Ruiz, which sell out each day without fail.
"Venezuelan cuisine has been influenced by Spanish, French and Italian," traditions, said Ruiz, prefacing his description of the pan de jamon — filled with ham, olives, and raisins — and milhojas, or thousand-sheet-cake, which layers puff pastry, cream and dulce de leche in a manner similar to the French mille feuille.
The bakery has made its home in an airy space that was once a coffee shop and a few other businesses. One side of the space is a cafe with a few tables for settling in with a frothy Venezuelan-style cappuccino and perhaps one of the savory snacks, arepas and empanadas cooked to order. The first are split corn cakes stuffed with cheese and/or shredded meat, then griddled; the empanadas are half-moons of golden corn dough with fillings such as chicken or cheese. Each comes with a container of creamy lime sauce whose ingredients Ruiz prefers to keep a secret.
Prices start at 75 cents for some cookies, with most pastries falling between $2 and $5 and cakes costing more; three empanadas are $7, and arepas start at $7, too.
Mayra's Bakery opens at 7 a.m. during the week and 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Find it at 781 Hawkins Ave., Lake Grove. mayrasbakery.com