IF YOU GO
Latin Family Bakery
Location: 5435 Airport-Pulling Road, Naples
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Cuisine: Peruvian and Chilean
Beverages: Peruvian favorites such as Inca Kola, beer and wine
Atmosphere: Low-key and unpretentious, this is a small neighborhood restaurant
Service: Friendly but slow-paced.
Prices: Very reasonable. Empanadas are $1.75 each; generous portioned entrees are all less than $20.
Recommended dishes: Empanadas ($1.75-$3), ceviche de pescado y camarones ($12.50), Lomo Saltado ($11.99)
Verdict: Give this small restaurant a try for a real taste of Chilean and Peruvian home cooking.
The keyword here is simplicity, delicious simplicity. The Latin Family Bakery won’t impress you with its digs — a small, square room with virtually no decor or wall art to speak of — but the good news is that this tiny bakery is the kind of place where Argentinians, Bolivians, Chileans and Peruvians go to taste the flavors of home. Sit in the dining room on any given day and you are likely to be one of the few, if not the only, non Spanish-speaking customer, a guarantee that the food is as authentic as it gets outside South America itself. Yet you’ll feel welcome, almost as if you were owner Francisco Robles’ old friend. Dining at the Bakery is a refreshing change of pace that reminds me that there is great food to be had in places that are too often overlooked and that anonymous strip malls around town often hide some true gems within their nondescript facades.
Latin Family Bakery offers Chilean and Peruvian specialties. Empanadas — turnovers stuffed with a variety of ingredients, then either fried or baked — are an absolute must-try. I tried them all — chicken filled empanadas fritas de pollo ($1.75), empanadas con queso made with gooey mozzarella ($1.75), ham-and-cheese stuffed queso y jamon empanadas ($1.75), empanadas de mariscos filled with clams, shrimp, mussels and fish ($1.75), and the giant empanadas de carne ($3.50). Picking a favorite would be like admitting that I prefer a dear relative over another one, something you just won’t do, but one thing is sure: no matter how they are stuffed, their crust is a work of art:. It’s crunchy, flaky and buttery enough to make you reach for another piece as soon as you’re done swallowing the first.
The ceviche, too, is highly recommended for those who enjoy seafood at its simplest. This refreshing appetizer is made either with shrimp —ceviche de camarones ($11.99) — chunks of white fish (also $11.99) or a combination of the two ($12.50). Served on top of a large lettuce leaf, it can be ordered mild, spicy or anything in between. Expect to wait a little while for it; the raw fish and shrimp have to marinate in freshly squeezed lime juice for at least 20 minutes for the citric acid to “cook” it. Tangy, raw red onions, cilantro and red pepper flakes round out this typical appetizer —another must-try at the Bakery.
Entree selections represent the wide variety of dishes found in both Peruvian and Chilean cuisines. An eclectic mix of Italian, Japanese, Spanish and French influences blend into specialty meat and seafood entrees that are unique — mostly unheard of, yet strangely familiar.
The Lomo Saltado ($11.99) is a perfect example of this melange of flavors and cuisines. Tender bite-sized chunks of beef sirloin are stir fired with fresh tomatoes, bell peppers and French fries — that’s right, French fries — in a salty, soy-based sauce, then served with buttery white rice. You can order it with a fried egg on top, something that transforms it in a brunch-like dish, if you want to add an extra dimension (and some more calories). Regardless of that, the lomo saltado is a South American classic — pleasantly salty, satisfying and quite literally addictive. I found myself picking at it way after my appetite was satisfied and my stomach full.
The Churrazco Argentino ($15.99) is another winner, a tender and buttery steak cooked “cowboy” style on an open flame grill. Confusingly, in South America this method of quick cooking meat on an extremely hot grill is called “BBQ,” which might lead many to think that the dish is slow-cooked. Au contraire, the churrazco is a quickly charred skirt steak, tenderized to perfection and seared on a hot flame to retain all the juices.
Served with rice and black beans, it’s even better doused with a generous heap of aji, a fresh made mixture of peruvian peppers, onion and cilantro minced together and dressed with vinegar and spices that Francisco replenishes as soon as you run low on it.
Because this is a bakery, if you aren’t too stuffed with your meal, try one of the desserts or pastries that are homemade daily by Robles’ wife in the Bakery’s kitchen. Like everything else at this small eatery they are fresh, authentic and rich in texture and flavor — that perfect break you need sometimes from upscale restaurants and complicated menu offerings.
Connect with Chiara Assi at www.naplesnews.com/staff/chiara_assi