I have to admit that, for much of my adult life, I wasn’t sure what an empanada was.
I somehow got it confused with a place, as in the song “The Girl for Ipanema,” and thought for while it was the Spanish word for panda.
But then I found out about De ‘Nada Empanadas, a pop-up cafe that travels to southern Maine breweries, events and businesses. And I discovered they are actually little hand pies, like a Cornish pasty or a tiny calzone.
Hand pies are a great concept, in any country and in any cuisine. You can carry them around, you don’t need forks and knives, and you can fill the delicious pastry crust with just about anything.
So they’re perfect for lunch wherever you are, perfect to snack on with a beer. This winter De ‘Nada Empanadas has been selling its wares at several Portland-area breweries and tasting rooms, including Mast Landing, Rising Tide, Allagash and Goodfire. The eatery also can be booked to pop up at various businesses, to feed the employees at lunch.
The hand pies at De ‘Nada Empanadas are just $5 a piece ($3 when they make the mini ones), so it’s easy to try a couple, or more, varieties. Which is a good thing because they have some creative filling combinations.
When I had De ‘Nada Empanadas for lunch last week I tried three of the $5 ones, though two would have been enough to fill me up. One was a bacon cheeseburger version, with ground beef, applewood bacon, pickle, tomato, onion and cheddar cheese. The flavor was a little smoky, with bits of pickle for sourness and cheese to make it smooth. It was in a round, wonderfully buttery crust, with sesame seeds on top.
Another I had was the Sambal chicken, with chunks of chicken marinated in a sweet and spicy Asian chili sauce with roasted pineapple salsa. It came again in a wonderful crust, but shaped more like a small football than an circle. It was my favorite of the three I tried. I am a little wary of spicy things but the heat of this was great, adding to the flavor instead of burying it.
The third I tried was a Massaman Curry, with veggies in a coconut-massaman curry mixed with potatoes and peanuts, in a whole wheat dough. Everything blended nicely, but the curry wasn’t as spicy as the chicken one. So I used a little bit of the spicy sauces available to squirt yourself into little cups.
Other empanadas available on days I found the pop-up have included a steak bomb with shaved beef, peppers, onions and provolone cheese sauce, a Buffalo chicken, and a pork chili verde. I’ve had the pork one before and like it almost as much as the Sambal chicken.
De ‘Nada Empanadas is an off-shoot of the Fishin’ Ships food truck owned by Bethany Taylor, who lived for a while in Argentina, where she learned to love traditional empanadas. After buying the food truck in 2017, she decided to ad a rotating empanada menu for people who didn’t necessarily want fish from the food truck, which operates from mid-April until late October.
That morphed into selling empanadas as a pop-up cafe. The name De ‘Nada comes from the Spanish phrase for “you’re welcome” or more literally translated, “it’s nothing.”
Taylor said she’s in the process of figuring out if the pop-up will run all year long, or just in the winter when the truck is dormant.
But the truck will always offer at least one empanada, she said.
Which is good for me, because now that I know what they are, I want more.
WHERE: Pop-up cafe appearing at local breweries and other locations
WHEN: Hours at each location vary, check schedule on Facebook or on Instagram
WAIT: None, the empanadas are made ahead of time but still warm.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Depends on location
UPCOMING SCHEDULE: Rising Tide Brewing Co., 103 Fox St., Portland, Sunday, Jan. 26, Feb. 9, Feb. 23; Goodfire Brewing Co., 219 Anderson St., Portland, Saturday and Feb. 17; Allagash Brewing Company, 50 Industrial Way, Portland, Jan. 27; Makers Market at Thompson’s Point, Portland, Jan. 27.