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Empanadas at Gulf Gate's EmpaCurious.

This week I visited EmpaCurious, one of Gulf Gate's newest eateries that's located next to Dolce Italia, a longtime favorite Italian stop. 

When you first enter, you see a case filled with empanadas and desserts ready for you to take home, along with jars of pickled papayas and a few house-made sauces. If you're there for lunch, you'll have a more casual experience in the front room; dinner in the dining room offers different decor, a mini-bar for beer, wine and kombucha and table service.

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Black beans

The empanadas are all homemade and feature everything from more traditional beef tango (with angus beef, raisins, olives, eggs and onions) to a gluten-free, vegetarian bhangra with garbanzo beans, potatoes, peas, curry and spices. Choose two and get a side like Cuban black beans or baked sweet plantains.

The bistro dinner menu features  a variety of empanadas and chef 's special plates like sweet and spicy chorizo Marsala. The pork we were served was thin and fatty, but the sauce was flavorful. There's an up-charge for scallops and shrimp, which may pair better with the  sweetness of the Sahara sauce, which is made with figs, dates, yogurt, mint and other aromatics.

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The all-day and late-night market menu features more sauces and two homemade soups, both good. There are also chiapas, little Brazilian cheesy bread puffs  served with eggplant escabiche and Persian hummus. Desserts are wonderful, especially a cream cheese flan that's worth the calories, and a fluffy, light tres leches cake, all homemade on premises. Pro tip: finish with a cafe con leche and a dessert flight (five mini treats which include that incredible cream cheese flan).

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A dessert flight

While servers were non-existent on our first visit—which made waiting for our meals and water refills a bit of a distraction—the staffing has gotten better and the owners, who had never been in the restaurant business,  are learning they can't do it all and training staff is key. They are hard workers, pleasant and have a true passion for flavors. And make sure to check the blackboard for schedules of live music and dancing, starting about 10 p.m. for late night fun.

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$ Latin, Latin American, Spanish 6559 Gateway Ave.

Alfonso Abreu and Sylvia Noguera launched EmpaCurious in 2016 as an Anna Maria Island delivery and takeout service, selling baked empanadas, sliders, tacos a...