Living as a foodie is very similar to walking through life as a perpetually pregnant lady, we are always hungry, we constantly have cravings for strange food at all hours of the night, and unless our desires are met we are not fun to be around. Living as a foodie’s significant other is in turn comparable to being the partner of an expecting mother when these oddly specific and damn near impossible requests come out of left field. So, this past weekend when Kat did not get any empanadas at a certain Food Truck Mash-Up, I sensed the storm approaching and devised a proactive plan to conquer the impending category 5 foodie tornado that was about to rain fire and brimstone upon my house.
My strategy was simple and sound. I figured the googles knows everything, except for what the hell Korri Sabatini’s freaking infuriating forehead tattoo means, so I consulted my favorite online resource to find Bergen County’s best Empanada’s. Upon researching this topic I found that most people whom answered this question on Yahoo answers or other forums designed to help wandering internet souls such as myself, enjoyed rubbing in the fact that the best place to get Empanadas in Bergen County was at their grandmother’s house. Well smart asses, my Abuela does not specialize in Empanada’s she specializes in Matzo Ball Soup, so your answer does me no damn good and deserves the thumbs down rating I gave it. After I sorted through all the responses that were trying to make me visit their elderly family members in order to satisfy Kat’s craving for a fried stuffed pocket of awesome, I stumbled upon Empanada Mania, located at 62 S Washington Avenue, Bergenfield, New Jersey, 07621.
The interwebs informed me that Empanada Mania was voted Best New Restaurant in 2013 by 201 Magazine and almost every review that I read stated that they were serving the best Empanadas in the county as well. Trusting my fellow Bergenites and internet gastronauts, I informed Kat that her craving would be quenched thanks to Empanada Mania. Since I was in disaster mode, I was unable to sense that I too, caught the empanada bug when we were turned away from the food truck with empty stomachs, and I soon realized that if the Empanadas at Empanada Mania did not meet or exceed our expectations, the ride home would be akin to traveling with two pregnant women, ready to pop, on a 100 degree day, with no air conditioning. Needless to say no one wants that at all.
When we arrived at Empanada Mania we were greeted as soon as we walked in the door with a smile and a genuine welcome from the owner’s father. This family orientated business approach honestly makes my soul smile, and it helped even more that this gentleman was kind, helpful, and made us chuckle on numerous occasions while we were at this establishment. This kind of service and mindset is what is missing from all the chain restaurants that are unfortunately pushing the mom and pop shops out with every flavorless catchy named appetizer that is sold.
Empanada Mania has a rotating menu of at least six empanadas a day, which in turn creates a daily menu that is ever changing. On the day that we decided to give Emapanda Mania a whirl, they were offering the following varieties Beef, Buffalo Chicken, Pizza, Chicken Quesadilla, Spinach and Feta, Two Cheese, and Cheese Burger. Kat and I were trying to be conservative, and since we were only eating lunch, we ordered five of the seven that were on the menu. We decided to order a beef for the traditionalist is us, a buffalo chicken to kick it up a notch, a Pizza because if not Kat’s father would disown her, a Chicken Quesadilla because I am a cheeseaholic, and a Spinach and Feta in a vain attempt to healthy.
After ordering, we once again began to speak with the front house manager of Empanada Mania and soon enough the proprietor of the shop, Mr. Galo Grijalva, came out to greet us. He introduced himself, and we spoke for a few minutes about the business and his future plans to climb aboard the food truck band wagon and use his mobile munchie maker as a promotion device and a as a way to give back to the County. After mere minutes of speaking to him, I could tell right away that this man was truly passionate about not only his Empanadas but his business as well, which only got me more excited about the food that I was about to chew on.
When the food arrived at our table, Kat and I were so elated that our Empanada feast was about to begin that we could barely contain ourselves, none the less wait for these fresh fried morsels to cool down, but alas we are smarter than your average Hot Pocket eater. I took the first deep fried purse of holding out of the basket and divided it into two pieces thus allowing the heat to escape quicker and permitting us to see what type of empanada we were about to ingest.
Our first victim was the Spinach and Feta Empanada, and as I was cutting it, I already knew that it was going to be remarkable. The crust was the perfect consistency as I could feel the flawless crunch and flakiness under my knife as I pressed down firmly. After I broke through the outer layer, my plastic cutlery flew through the moist savory filling faster than A-Rod can deny any and all allegations of wrong doing. Our first bite instantly converted us to Empanada Maniacs, and there was no turning back. The Spinach was seasoned expertly and the ratio of feta to greens was spot on.
Next up was the Buffalo Chicken Empanada. As soon as I saw this inventive and whimsical item on the menu, I knew I had to try it. I was very pleased that it was among the empanadas that we chose to sample. The expressive flavor of the filling combined excellently with the crunchy texture of the shell to create a wonderful marriage in my mouth.
The Pizza filled empanada was next on the chopping block, and we were not disappointed yet again. The quality of the cheese as well as the quantity was not unnoticed by this foodie. The addition of just the right amount of marinara sauce only added to the charm of this vegetarian friendly empanada.
The Chicken Quesadilla empanada fell just as its brethren did; one fantastic bite at a time. As Kat and I finished off this fanciful fowl, we were saddened that we only had one more of these miraculous pleasure stuffed indulgences left to consume.
Fortunately Kat and I saved what was in our opinion the best for last, the straight up, traditional Beef Empanada. I was surprised that I, an aficionado of all things strange and odd in the culinary world, would find myself choosing the seemingly “boring” beef empanada as the winner of our little taste test, but this deep fried mighty meat package was anything but boring. The seasoning was impeccable and created a fresh and crisp palatableness that was simply insurmountable.
As we looked down at our empty basket, the realization sank in that we were all out of these amazing delicacies, but then a smile come over my face. This Joker-esque smirk was followed by me returning to the counter and ordering two more Empanadas before even discussing it with Kat. We ordered one more beef, because it was that kind of good, and I also ordered a Cheese Burger. The Beef was saved for last because we were well aware of its foodgasmic powers. As we ate the Cheese Burger Empanada, I began to comprehend that it was not just one of their Empanadas that are noteworthy, but it is all of them. Every last empanada that we ate on our first of many outings to this eatery was simply divine. They all have their merits, and I could literally eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next month and still come back for more.
Empanada Mania also offers a homemade hot sauce to pair with their tasty treats. The house manager informed us that he came up with the recipe for this phenomenal sauce while he was still in his mother’s belly, and I believe it. This prodigious sauce was the ideal companion to the already sublime taste of these Empanadas. As Kat and I ate each of them, we tried them without sauce first, which caused us to swoon, but after adding some of the sauce we fell in love. Since this sauce is homemade it may be somewhat spicy for the average consumer, so it is recommended that you taste the sauce first before slathering it on.
If reading this article about the outstanding things Empanada Mania is doing with fried dough does not make you wish that you could beam down to Bergenfield immediately and try their culinary delights, than maybe this will. Galo, The Empanada Master, recently added a new addition to his cooking staff, Ms. Emma Scher from Ridgewood, N.J., who recently competed on the Teen episode of the Food Network Show, Chopped. Mr. Grijalva has agreed to show Ms. Scher the business end of working in a restaurant, in order to give back to the community that has helped him realize his dream. During our visit to Empanada Mania, we had the pleasure to meet Emma, and after our short conversation, Kat and I could see she is destined for greatness in the epicurean world.