Ricardo Barreras is on a mission to create the most Cuban corner in NYC.
The restaurateur has paid homage to his native cuisine at Pilar Cuban Eatery in Bed-Stuy for nine years, and now, he’s taking it up a notch by adding a bakery next door to showcase the baked goods that star in Cuba.
Pilar Cuban Bakery — opening this Thursday, at 397 Greene Ave., between Bedford and Franklin Avenues — will mimic the Cuban cafes of Miami, where sugary pastries and strong coffee are sold from to-go windows at tiny, family-owned shops.
Barreras, who lived in south Florida before moving to New York, pulled inspiration from those cafes, many of which are attached to Cuban restaurants and act as an extension of the dining room itself. In Miami, a Cuban meal is traditionally followed up with coffee or dessert at the bakery next door, and more often than not, a to-go box packed with pastries.
The bakery will be a casual, counter-service spot with pink walls and a patterned floor, mirroring the bright decor of the restaurant next door. Seating will be limited to a few two-top tables, with a grad-and-go window for outdoor ordering.
The chef will serve sweet and savory pastries like chicken empanadas, ham croquettes, and guava and cream cheese pastelitos, as well as Cuban bread baked on the spot. “Our approach here is to really highlight and showcase Cuban ingredients, and use them in very creative ways,” Barreras says.
While his menu will prove nostalgic for Miamians and Cubans alike, Barreras also aims to make Pilar more “modern and updated,” placing greater emphasis on quality of ingredients. Many options will stick to tradition, but diners can also expect to find his own creations, such as a dulce de leche brownie and a red velvet cake topped with a cream cheese flan.
Sandwiches, tamales, and a Spanish-inspired pot pie stuffed with cod or chorizo will also be on deck. Drinks will center on Cuba’s notably strong coffee — a favorite among office workers in Miami. Cuban sodas, fresh juices, and tropical fruit shakes will also be sold.
Barreras says he never planned to open a bakery in New York. What he did want was a way to improve his Cuban sandwich, and for that, he needed better bread. Cuban bread is not common in NYC — and that’s a big deal for someone from Miami, where it’s present in nearly every neighborhood. The bread itself, a white baguette that’s made with lard and has a soft, pillowy inside, is considered a breakfast staple there, served pressed like a panini with butter or stuffed with eggs, ham, and cheese, plus a side of strong, sugary coffee.
Recently, he found a renowned Cuban bakery in south Florida — whose name he prefers to keep secret — that could ship him frozen bread so he could bake it at his shop. Once he realized he didn’t have enough space to proof and bake the bread at Pilar Cuban Eatery, he considered taking over the space next door.
And if he was going to make bread next door, why not make some empanadas too? The menu quickly evolved. The goal, Barreras says, is for Pilar to be like an “oasis” for Cubans as well as people from Miami, or “the Cuban-est corner in NYC.”
“When we first opened here in 2009, people knew very little about Cuban food,” he says. “Once you try a good croquette, forget about it.”
Pilar Cuban Bakery opens Thursday, January 31, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.