By Elle McLogan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Chef Ricardo Barreras calls it “the Cubanest corner in all of New York City.”

It’s where Bedford and Greene Avenues meet, and it’s where his two establishments, Pilar Cuban Eatery and Pilar Cuban Bakery, sit side by side.

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In 2009, Barreras left his career in social psychology to open Pilar Cuban Eatery, where he prepares the Cuban recipes of his Miami childhood. With increasing popularity came a bigger Bed-Stuy space for the restaurant, followed in 2019 by the addition of Pilar Cuban Bakery and its coffee window next door.

“In Miami, it’s very typical for some of the bigger restaurants to have a bakery next door,” he said. “So I’m not inventing anything; I’m just recreating it in Brooklyn.”

At the bakery, Barreras and his team are using Cuban coffee in drinks like café con leche, a sweetened, milky jolt of caffeine.

“Cuban coffee is roasted longer, so it’s darker and richer,” he said. “It’s not a fancy, froufrou, coffee-shop coffee. It’s comfort-food coffee.”

According to Barreras, it’s best paired with Cuban bread—sliced, buttered toast is dunked in café con leche for a typical Cuban breakfast.

“The Cuban bread, that’s something that Cubans, they die for,” he said. “It’s kind of like eating a soft pillow.”

Also on the menu are Cuban classics like papas rellenas, fried balls of mashed potato and ground beef, as well as empanadas, baked pastries he stuffs with shredded chicken, sautéed vegetables, spices, olives, and raisins.

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Many of his sweets are laced with guava and cream cheese, which he calls the peanut butter and jelly of Cuban cuisine.

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“We really try to utilize as much as possible Cuban ingredients,” he said. “If it’s not a typical dessert, we Cubanize it.”

He adds rum and plantains to bread pudding and layers his brownies with dulce de leche. 

Many of the bakery’s traditional ingredients are unfamiliar to his customers.

“It was very interesting to see that New Yorkers, who are so sophisticated when it comes to food—they know Indian dishes, what’s tandoori, what’s vindaloo, and they can name Vietnamese dishes and Korean dishes—when it comes to the most basic things about Cuban food, they’re not familiar with it,” he said.

“We’re not going to rag on you because you don’t know. We’re going to teach you. It’s fun.”

Pilar Cuban Eatery and Bakery
397 Greene Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11216
(718) 623-2822
https://www.pilarny.com/

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Elle McLogan