Imagine something delicious stuffed inside a neat little fried pie and you’ve got the empanada, the underlying theme of a colorful new Ronkonkoma eatery.
At Island Empanada, tucked into a Waldbaum’s shopping center, you order at the counter from a long list of Latin turnovers. Bronx-born owner Roy Pelaez, who spent years in restaurant management, draws on his Puerto Rican heritage for recipes. His wife, Kathy, as well as his two daughters and brother-in-law, all help out in the business.
From what I observed recently, the crisp, greaseless empanadas are selling like hot cakes. A favorite of mine was the traditional ground beef empanada, made with a dynamite “secret” sofrito sauce (Pelaez said everyone in the kitchen had to sign a document swearing not to reveal its recipe). The chorizo and potato version had lots of kick. Hard to decide which I liked better, the garlicky Latin shrimp or the fruity-spicy shrimp and mango salsa filling. Chipotle chicken set off fiery little detonations on the palate; much mellower were the pulled-pork and three-cheese empanadas.
Sides include rice and beans and fried sweet plantains. You could also end your meal with an Oreo or caramel-apple empanada. I’d rather have “Grandma’s flan,” a silky caramel custard. It’s crustless — and welcome, after all that sturdy eating.
For those averse to deep frying, Pelaez says he’s experimenting on a baked empanada, adding that he does fry in Canola oil, avoiding trans fats.
Prices are gentle, with the traditional beef at $1.95 to the Latin shrimp at $2.95. You can also order empanadas by the box; any 10 go for $19.99; 15 for $29.25 and 20 for $36.95.
Island Empanada is at 601-13 Portion Rd., Ronkonkoma, 631-617-6427