Empanadas have landed in downtown Dallas thanks to Empanada Cookhouse, a new restaurant in the West End featuring the Latin-American turnovers in flavors both savory and sweet.
Owner Rodolfo Bianchi opened the restaurant about a week before the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. But he's managed to turn it into a positive by using the time to hone procedures and get his business running smoothly.
A native of Guatemala, Bianchi worked for more than 20 years for Pollo Campero, which he says was sort of like attending "restaurant college." He worked his way through the ranks, becoming an integral part of the opening of the first 100 restaurants in the United States before becoming vice president of operations over the US market.
He began Empanada Cookhouse as a catering and food truck, and has built a following via partnerships with local craft beer breweries.
"Initially, we focused on catering and online orders, building word of mouth," he says. "I always knew I wanted to open a location and would keep my eye out as I made deliveries and met customers."
He's in a storefront at 1001 Ross Ave., on the ground floor retail space of an apartment building at the intersection of Lamar Street, along with a pizza place coming up and a Tiff's Treats cookies.
"We're in an area that's full of people, hotels, residences, and office buildings, and the development of the West End continues," he says.
His menu includes savory empanadas filled with beef, chicken, pork, and two kinds of veggies; plus four dessert empanadas: Dulce De Leche, Guava Cheesecake, Banana Nutella, and Pineapple.
He has sides and salads, and is also doing breakfast empanadas, including eggs, potatoes, and roasted peppers; bacon & eggs; scrambled eggs & chorizo; and spinach & egg whites.
"We are doing authentic but also local flavors," he says. "It's about bringing an empanada to taco country. People in Texas know jalapeno peppers, fajitas, and barbecue pork. So it's this idea of a hand-filled pie with those flavors we love."
He also does them baked, not fried, and offers them in "flights" where you can get a variety of flavors. "We make them a little small, and did that intentionally so you can sample different kinds," he says.
For now, he's open from Monday-Saturday 10:30 am-8 pm, and for a couple of hours on Sundays. His space has seating for about 24 people, although with the 25 percent occupancy restriction, that doesn't amount to many diners in the restaurant at one time.
"They're saying it'll be 50 percent soon - we're just taking it one day at a time," he says.