10 years ago, La Gran Uruguaya Bakery was opening in late summer on 37th Avenue, three doors in from the corner of 85th Street. Next to it was a botanica, selling religious candles and paraphernalia, and on the corner stood mainstay Cafe La Nueva, which always was mistaken for the more popular La Nueva Bakery on the next block. Over the next four or five years, the bakery was doing a brisk business and slowly expanded towards the corner, first taking the botanica space to increase their pastry output, then finally the restaurant, adding a bar and full dining room and menu. Their signage now extends all three former addresses and makes it appear the whole establishment has always been one.
The restaurant and bakery have separate entrances, but a door towards the rear connects the two if you change your mind and need to switch from coffee to wine. The bakery is busy at all times of day and night, it remains one of the most popular spots for pastries, cookies, and mate in the neighborhood.
Never written about on this site, the bakery is very recommended. It is the premier spot to watch Uruguayan football, especially during major world tournaments when we usually stop by for a match. In 2014, I was in attendance for the heartbreaking game against Costa Rica that opened a very poor tournament for the nation.
Keeping the theme, football is usually on the televisions even on weekday afternoons, and pictures of Messi (and one of Ronaldo) are all around. It seems Barcelona (current home of Uruguayan hero Luis Suárez) is more popular than Real Madrid, but you will find fans from the country in both camps.
This post is all about the full dining room on the corner, offering a vast Uruguayan menu and full bar. During those very big games, they will serve beers to the bakery, but usually if you want to have alcohol it has to stay in the restaurant. The bar is stocked with wines from Chile and Argentina and runs halfway to the back of the restaurant, with a dozen seats or so.
Like most countries in the Americas, indigenous peoples have been wiped out and later their conquerors have used their vestiges and cultures to their own purposes. In Uruguay, this is the fearsome warriors known as the Charrúa, the namesake for this restaurant's Uruguayan platter, a small sampler of three grilled meats that rivals an Argentinean parrillada.
The bandeja charrúa ($22, below) contains two steaks and a sausage. The two styles of steak, in typical fashion, are very minimally marinated, as the point of eating plates like this is to show off the quality of the meat. The skirt steak was very enjoyable, while the other short rib piece was surprisingly fatty and went unfinished. The link of sausage is excellent.
Spread now into surrounding countries, the typical eating culture of the Argentinean gaucho is the inspiration for these modern day parrilladas. The Pampa region was full of wild cattle, and thus full of meals of healthy meat to put over the fire.
The skirt steak has also made its way into a sandwich and is now the national dish of Uruguay. The enormous chivito al pan ($15, below) is a must try for the uninitiated, a stack of foods that appear to be caught in a freeze frame while melting.
Between the toasted buns, the chivito includes lettuce, tomato, olives, bacon, plenty of mozzarella cheese, and a fried egg. As you can imagine, it is pretty impossible to stick the thing in a normal-sized mouth.
As if not enough food already, a side of perfectly fried fries comes with the sandwich. Eating them after already being stuffed makes the terrible soundtrack of this place a little more palatable. The chimichurri and hot green sauces are recommended for adding to meats and sandwiches, the spicy sauce great for the fries as well.