Empanada King- Melbourne Renningers- 4 Stars
"Wanderer, there is no road -- Only wakes upon the sea." -- Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla
As I sat at the beach gazing intently into the far-off horizon over the Atlantic ocean my mind drifted back to a poem by famed Spanish poet Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla. Thanks to those wakes my muchacho Machado we have some amazing flavors in the culinary cornucopia that makes up the American dining landscape. The Spanish, for example, brought flavors from every region of Spain and dropped them off here and there and in so doing created a breadcrumb trail of regional flavors in the Caribbean on their way to the New World. One of those breadcrumbs landed on the island of Puerto Rico from where Jorge, the owner/chef of Empanada King in Melbourne, originated. The first thing I noticed as I entered was the guy behind the counter. He was wearing a cardboard crown (like the ones from Burger King we all wore as a child). With the name of the restaurant being what it is I assumed this was the reigning monarch, King Jorge, in the flesh.
As I approached the counter to place my order I noticed the limited seating area and thought that like the empanada itself, the restaurant seemed designed with carry-out in mind. Jorge greeted me with the efficacy one usually only finds in the proprietor and gladly took my order. I went with Combo #2 which includes 3 empanadas and your choice of fountain drink. For my three empanadas I ordered one beef and pork combo, one chicken and one cheese and for my drink my ever-present iced tea.
Grabbing my order from the counter and returning to my table I thought to myself, "Ok, game on. Let's see if the crown was deserved. Is he really The King?" Noticing the way my food looked, I glanced back toward the kitchen and noticed the glaring absence of machinery. Everything was handmade and fresh to order by Jorge. So far, his claim to the throne was looking good.
As my teeth broke through the perfectly fried outer pastry and sank into the delicious conglomeration of meats and spices inside of the chicken/pork empanada, I was about ready to pledge him my fealty. The flavors were ambrosial on the palate and it only got better when I used the handmade sauces that accompanied my meal. Jorge's guacamole is fresh, creamy, colorful and just the right amount of spicy while his cilantro aioli is a sauce fit for Kings and Queens alike as it had the perfect mixture of cilantro, garlic and other Spanish spices. The chicken empanada was a twin to the chicken/pork one as it, too, had an amazing flavor and exploded on the palate with deliciousness fit for royalty. There were all kinds of Latin flavors dancing around inside a perfectly golden, flaky pastry. I found this matched up rather well with the cilantro aioli as if designed for each other. The chicken was fresh, tender, juicy, flavorful and faultlessly presented. I would say that the cheese empanada was the pièce de résistance of the meal, but that would be a huge disservice to the other empanadas I enjoyed. Once again, Jorge fried the homemade pastry to a delicious golden brown and the inside was a delightful mix of cheeses, Latin spices and fresh herbs.
I don't know if it goes back to the Spanish explorers seeding of the islands on their way to the new continent, or the fact that Jorge really is the King of Empanadas, but the flavor distinction between the empanadas from a Puerto Rican origin and the other island famous for meat pies, Jamaica, cannot be overstated. I have had plenty of pastries from the land of Marley and while they can be flavorful, they do not compare to the ones served by Jorge. He is the King!!
Big Boy says, "Just go already!" #bigboydiningout #iamthebigboy