Cafeteria and Rico Pan, Morristown, NJ

Rico Pan - beef and chicken processed

Rico Pan: On Speedwell Avenue, this one is split between sweet and savory foods.  The shell is on the crispy cornmeal side of the spectrum, though it’s a little thicker than Raul’s and thus a little juicier, which helps a lot in soaking up flavors from the filling.  Beef was actually beef pureed into a chunky potato filling, which was well-seasoned and really tasty; the potatoes add a complementary smoothness and heft to the beef flavor.  Chicken was pretty blah, with enough salt but otherwise it was basically shredded chicken, no additional seasoning.  The hot sauce appeared to be tabasco-based with a lot of onion chunks in it, medium-spicy with basically just a strong onion flavor, and wasn’t one of my favorites.

Entropyenator: Definitely a lot better than Raul’s, due to the filling and the shell as Justtwomorethings describes above. Surprisingly, I did like the beef better this time–usually I like the chicken ones, but chicken really does need some sort of sauce or seasoning–it was too blah otherwise to carry the emapanda on its own.

Cafeteria - beef processed

Cafeteria: Speedwell Avenue again, across from the CVS.  The shell is a happy medium between bready and crispy; it’s cornmeal but it’s thick enough so that the crunchy outside gives way to a nice, not too thick, pillowy inside.  They had chicken (not shown) only once out of the four times I’ve been there, and it tasted exactly like the beef, which was shredded and mixed into potato chunks.  Filling holds together well, is keep-eating-it savory but is definitely heavy on the salt.  I like salt but it’s borderline for me, much more junk-food tasting.  Hot sauce was very vinegar and onion (and barely any heat), which did a good job of cutting through the salt, but overall this one is probably an occasional treat rather than something you could eat all day.  Very strong flavors.

Raul’s Empanadas and Pan Casero, Morristown, NJ

I’m currently hanging out with entropyenator in Morristown, NJ, which seems to have a lot of empanada joints.  Empanadas are one of my favorite foods ever, and since I have some time on my hands, I’m going to undertake a completely opinionated, unscientific taste test of every empanada place I come across here.  For vague consistency reasons, I’m going to try one plain beef and one plain chicken, with and without any hot sauce the place might have.

First up is Pan Casero bakery (Ecuadorian?) on Speedwell Avenue.  Judging from the display cases, this is really more of a sweet bakery, but this is an empanada mission so I’m ignoring those.  The chicken is just shredded chicken, nice and juicy and very deeply chicken-y, without much in the way of spicing, while the beef is ground beef with potatoes that could use a little more salt, and that is kind of bland; chicken is better.  Both casings were crisp on the outside, thick enough to be sturdy but not so thick it’s like eating a piece of bread.  Hot sauce is tangy, not hot, but it appears to have tomato pureed into it, which gives it a little more body and some nice rounded flavor.

Entropyenator: I’m not a empanada aficionado like Justtwomorethings, but I like eating things 🙂 These were pretty good. The chicken version was surprisingly most, even hours later, and I actually preferred it without the sauce. The beef wasn’t bad, but I do agree that it did need the sauce, which I guessed had tomato, tabasco and maybe cilantro.

Second was Raul’s Empanadas, the only place we could find a recommendation for in two seconds of Googling.  It was a bit of a disappointment.  The outsides were very thin, almost like crispy taco shells, and just as hard, which removes one of my empanada pleasures: the sauce-soaked casing.  The fillings were very loosely packed, with nothing to bind the meat together, so we had to spoon them back in after cutting the empanadas in half (because sharing is caring.  Also, they were on the dry side, although reasonably well-seasoned.  Chicken and beef were both boring; the bonus five sausage + lime was much juicier, but ultimately kind of ill-balanced, just a jumble of differently-spiced pork chunks.  The sauces (criollo and mango habanero criollo), however, were great, clearly not just dressed-up tabasco sauce.  More flavor than heat, as neither of them rose above medium, but they were bright with citrus, tangy with the hot peppers and with just a spike of cilantro to round it out.

Entropyenator: Raul’s might have been decent, if we hadn’t had the ones from Pan Casero first. I wasn’t a fan of the crispy/crusty shells, which didn’t play off the fillings as well as the softer, more doughy versions from Pan Casero. And the fillings were no great shakes either–as Justtwomorethings noted, you got less since they weren’t as densely packed, and flavor is best described as “meh.” A pity, since the sauces deserved to be put on something better–whereas Pan Casero’s, while not bad, seemed more of a run of the mill tabasco mixture, Raul’s sauces were clearly mixed from scratch and unique.