Luisa Olivera has six grandchildren, each of whom is represented by a single letter in the name of her new Babylon bakery: nz-grei. It’s hard to remember and even harder to pronounce, but the baked goods in Olivera's two-week-old establishment are not forgettable in the least. For one thing, there aren’t so many Chilean bakeries on the island. For another, the shop’s décor lovingly evokes Olivera’s homeland. Seriously, the Chilean embassy probably doesn’t have as many gewgaws. The walls are lined with maps, flags, Bible quotes and, soon, works by Isabel Allende and Pablo Neruda.
“Somebody told me that you eat everything,” she said Friday morning when I arrived at nz-grei, which sits almost but not quite in the shadow of the Babylon train station. Then, she led me to one of the bakery’s three tables, which was covered with a bevy of Olivera’s treats, including a chilenito (a triple-decker sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche), an empolvado (a sort of powder puff pastry) and a calzone roto (a fried sweet that looks nothing like a strict translation — torn panties — would indicate).
Just as tempting were the savory offerings. There were beef, chicken and vegetable empanadas (“I’ve sold 2,000 of them since we opened, but it was Chile’s Independence Day”), a hot dog with mashed avocado served on a housemade bun; and Olivera’s most popular item, a torta of beef, tomato, avocado and mayo on yet another housemade bun.
Perhaps most interesting of all was Olivera's mote con huesillos, a drink made with "dried peaches boiled with cinnamon and other spices" that comes with a spoon to scoop up nuggets of barley at the bottom of the cup. "It is sold on the streets all over in Chile," said Olivera.
Spoiler alert: Everything we tasted was wonderful. The ingredients were fresh, the seasonings were spot-on, and the pastries were clearly made with real butter. Olivera and her family have lived in America for almost 23 years. For most of them, she has worked in a drapery and fabric shop in Oyster Bay, and for almost all of them, she dreamed of opening a bakery. Along the way, she perfected her recipes, collected knickknacks for her future shop, and became known for the Chilean fruitcakes she makes and sells starting every November.
"There is an American dream and I am living it," she says, her eyes filling with tears.
Nz-grei is at 134 N. Carll Ave. in Babylon, 516-404-9342, nzgrei.com. Hours are Monday through Friday from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.