>> KC Gourmet Empanadas | Eat the World NYC

27 February 2019

KC Gourmet Empanadas


While New York City certainly has no shortage of Panamanian folks, the cuisine of the country has always been a bit sparse, with the best chance of scoring a bunch of food coming at the annual Panamanian independence festival, a parade and party in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Vendors would line the park at the end of the route and music and good food would be available for the afternoon. When longtime favorite Kelso Dining closed a couple years back, the mantle to carry the Panamanian flag belonged solely to Michelle's Cocktail Lounge.

Now a chef has decided to open up a small restaurant in the far reaches of Alphabet City, a surprising place outside of the Brooklyn parts that normally cater to Panamanians. Possibly to compensate for this, they do offer standard NY deli favorites like egg sandwiches for breakfast. Beyond this, the tiny place has a very large menu, proving it is not the size of the kitchen but how you use it.

It is unclear whether the operation is a family affair, but it certainly has the feel of one. The chef and proprietor of the place has what could be her granddaughters run the register and interact with customers, sending orders and instruction back to her in Spanish. She has a presence back there that makes you feel like the food will be good before it comes out.

If you are eating in, grab one of three chairs at a front counter and flip through a travel brochure about Panamá while you wait for the food to be served. If you are friends, the counter might fit three without winter coats, but more realistically only two people will fit here and most take their treasures to go.

Homemade chicheme ($5.95, above and below) is one of many drinks and desserts that are on display in the refrigerated case. This is classified as a drink and wildly popular in Panamá, but often requires a spoon because of its thickness. Besides corn it is made sweet by vanilla, condensed and evaporated milk, and is spiced by nutmeg and cinnamon.

This was actually enjoyed on a second visit because after the first day I felt too good to write about only one trip. As mentioned, the menu is large and offers a great window into the cuisine.

Served every weekday from noon, an "entrees" section of the menu lists dishes named for places in Panamá and covers some of the main plates you might end up ordering down there in more modern restaurants, from fried whole fish to stuffed chicken in a house mushroom sauce.

Since empanadas are in the name of this spot, I was eager to try a few. While these are available in various forms throughout Latin America, Panamá does not have a focus on them like some others do, so you might see different styles. The traditional options here are deep fried half moons, of which we tried both the cheese and chicken ($2.95 each, below).

There are also a bunch of offbeat selections, which we cannot vouch for yet, but I did overhear someone order a chicken pesto bacon empanada while waiting one day. All types of meat, seafood, and vegetable options should please most cravings.

The yellow sauce served with these and other dishes is a housemade hot sauce that combines three peppers, spices, and vinegar. It is very good (and spicy!) and available to purchase in small bottles. In general the food in Panamá never comes out spicy but is often accompanied by some kind of sauce to heat things up if desired.

One of my favorite dishes from the aforementioned festival was always bofe con hojaldra, a stew of cow lung served with fluffy fried bread. The version here ($11.95, below) is served in a cooking pot and very tasty, the rich brown stew is salty but complemented almost too well with simultaneous bites of the hojaldra.

Lung, at least the way Panamanians cook it, is smooth and not intense, a good introduction to offal if you are fearful but curious. This is a dish that should not be passed up.

The most prepared items at the festival were always tamales, cooked by several vendors and always delicious. In Panamá these are large, almost a full meal, the meats cooked inside of them still on the bone.

The tamal de pollo ($6.50, above and below) had a full drumstick inside, cooked long enough that the meat slid right off the bone. This is another good opportunity to use their homemade yellow sauce, which was when I asked about it and eventually led to a conversation about the October parade. Apparently she has been cooking there for many years, so it was possible I had eaten her tamales before. It is good to see talented chefs continue to expand and fulfill their dreams in the industry.

And why not end a meal with a small cup of arroz con leche ($5.50, below), which hits just the right sweet spot after a filling lunch. KC is a great addition to the city, check it out.

KC Gourmet Empanadas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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