New empanada spot opens in Lakeview

March 3, 2010 10:12:17 AM PST
Everyone loves a bite-sized, handheld snack, which is one of the reasons the empanada is so popular. There's a new cafe in Lakeview where the empanada has a strong Colombian accent.

In terms of empanada public relations, Argentina has managed to grab most of the attention in Chicago. Places like El Nandu and Tango Sur certainly make good versions. But Colombia is yet another country with a long history of empanada production. And at the new Macondo on Lincoln Avenue, that's precisely what they're all about.

Several cultures in South America claim the empanada as their own. Argentina often claims the lion's share of the publicity. But the Colombians aren't far behind. At Macondo Colombian Coffee and Empanadas in Lakeview, owner Leo Suarez is trying to replicate the flavors he remembers from growing up.

"We flew in a master baker, Jose Chavez, from Colombia who comes in here six days a week and makes traditional Colombia baked goods," said Suarez.

The empanadas begin with homemade dough and one of at least a half-dozen fillings; in one case, chicken with peppers. A small spoonful is placed into the dough - which rests in an empanada press. Once the seal is formed, and the dough is closed up along the sides, it's fried briefly in canola oil, until the exterior is just slightly crisp.

"The traditional one is the one that my grandma used to make and that's the beef and potato. That's the most common one you'll see all over Colombia," Suarez said.

Empanadas come with a choice of three salsas, each of which are unique: chimichurri, a combination of parsley, garlic and oil - best for steak; aji casero salsa, jammed with jalapeno and onions, plus aji de aguacate, which has creamy avocado added to it. They also have dessert empandas, including arequipe banana. Fresh banana slices are combined with a milk caramel, akin to a dulce de leche, then fried for just a minute or two. Guava-and-cheese-filled pastries offer yet another sweet ending.

There are also some plated dishes, including chicken or steak skewers, paired with rice and sweet, fried plantains, also a traditional Colombian soup of chicken, corn and potato called ajiaco. The influence of corn is prevalent. Their corn-studded arepas are also worth noting. Everything on the menu goes with the premium, fair-trade coffee, which Suarez hopes will keep customers coming back for more.

"What we really want to do is use this place to show people the positive aspects of Colombian culture. I feel the best way to share culture with anybody is, new culture is through food and music," said Suarez.

In addition to the empanadas, the coffee is not to be missed. They also carry a small selection of imported music, groceries and sodas, all with a Colombian accent.

2965 N. Lincoln Ave.