By Kelly Merritt
(Naples Daily News)
It's always a good time for empanadas.
In fact, it's hard to find a more perfect food ? you've got your protein, veggies and carbs stuffed into a pastry, neatly presented in an adorable handheld package. What's not to love?
Gustitos Bakery and Peruvian Cafe, which opened a few months ago in the Bed, Bath and Beyond Plaza off Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge roads in North Naples, is home to a variety of empanadas, but it also serves up a bevy of other delights.
Gonzalo Torres and his family own and operate Gustitos Bakery and Peruvian Cafe. The family has created the menu from 25 years in the bakery business in Peru. And yes, those fine empanadas roll out of the kitchen all day long where they get gobbled up by breakfast and lunch patrons as well as dinner patrons looking for an early evening light bite.
There are several flavors of empanadas ($2.75) ? the lomo saltado (beef), the savory sweet goodness of the aji de gallina (chicken with yellow pepper sauce), chicken and spinach. Sweet empanadas include apple and coconut-pineapple ($2.50).
A variety of sandwiches include the triple sandwich ($4.50) with avocado, egg and tomato, the chicharron sandwich ($7.50) with sliced pork, sweet potato, onion and a yellow pepper sauce, turkey and chicken sandwiches ($7.95/$7.25) and the lomo saltado sandwich ($7.95). An oft-ordered dish by diners in the know is the pork or chicken tamale served with Criolla sauce of onions, tomatoes and cilantro ($3.50). The crumbly dough of a spinach or artichoke hojaldre ($2.75/$3.50) is a messy but light, yummy treat.
If morning pastries are what you crave, Gustitos bakes turnovers, Danish, croissant, fritters and cinnamon rolls throughout the day along with the fresh bread and rolls that serves as the platforms for the restaurant's sandwiches, and which you can buy to take home. Everything is made in-house.
This is a place where you get your money's worth. The combos are reasonably priced and each has variety, another rarity. For example, combo No. 6 includes a soup of the day, an empanada, soft drink or coffee, and a small dessert or chips for $6.99. The most expensive combo is No. 10 and includes a chicharron sandwich, an empanada, soft drink or coffee and small dessert or chips for $10.50.
Aside from the food and good coffee, Gustitos is a cool place to hang out ? it has Wi-Fi and there are precious few places in Naples where you can work on your computer and get a decent meal under the same roof. The long table on the wall is the prime spot for locking down and typing.
I particularly enjoyed people-watching at Gustitos and its telling endorsement of a great ethnic restaurant ? tables of friendly, smiling Peruvians, animatedly sharing dishes with each other and nodding at you. Yup, you nod back, holding up your own savory pastry (Disclaimer: Peruvians are much more generous than I ? I would not dream of sharing my aji de gallina chicken empanada).
On every table, little sugar dispensers provide the best sweetener for a Gustitos cafe con leche. Don't even think of adding artificial sweetener.
Speaking of sweets, Gustitos is a great place to grab a dessert and coffee in the midafternoon. Desserts range from $1.50 to $3.50. Cake by the slice includes red velvet and carrot, two of their most popular, along with marble. Tiny tartlets peek out at you from the dessert case as well, including white chocolate, Key lime, colorful fruit and others, depending on the day.
Other desserts include a divine rice pudding, flan, pionono slices, the refreshing mazamorra morada, or jellylike dessert, and the traditional alfajor baked and then filled with a chocolaty, creamy filling. Gustitos also sells cookies individually and by the pound, and whole cakes on order.
IF YOU GO
Gustitos Bakery and Peruvian Cafe
Where: 5417 Airport-Pulling Road, North Naples
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $2.75-$7.95 sandwiches and empanadas; $1.50-$3.50 desserts/pastries
Information: 239-254-8115; www.gustitosbakery.com