Is this place even open? Despite the sign hanging in the EmpaCurious window saying it should be, it doesn't look promising. The door is locked and the lights are low. But I've driven down to Gulf Gate craving empanadas the whole way, so there's no way I'm leaving without finding out for sure.
Knock, knock. Whew. Here comes Alfonso Abreu, who opened the eatery last month in the space once occupied by the much-missed sushi restaurant Vizen. EmpaCurious is indeed open, Abreu assures me and my friend Justin. Good thing. We're starving.
Abreu and Sylvia Noguera got into the empanada business last year, selling carry-out pockets of dough on Anna Maria Island and also delivering around the island. With the transition to Gulf Gate, they're now selling grab 'n' go lunch items and serving lunch and dinner, with drinks and occasional live music, too. Abreu and Noguera are offering up soups, salads, platters and sweets, but it's their beautiful empanadas that make this place worth a visit.
A glass case in the back holds EmpaCurious' treasures, with trays loaded with a range of flavors that hop from South America to India to New Orleans. The dough casings are marvelous—thick enough to offer resistance and chew, but delicate enough to snap easily between your teeth. A single empanada goes for $4. Justin and I eagerly devour what seems like dozens. Favorites include one stuffed with Cuban sandwich ingredients, beef flavored with onions and raisins and a turmeric-hued South Asian variety. They come served with a variety of creamy sauces, ranging from a garlicky mayo-like sauce to one that nods to Caribbean barbecue. A side of jicama slaw acts as a crunchy counterpoint.
Open for business? You bet. And thank goodness.
EmpaCurious is located at 6559 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, and is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. For more info, visit the website or call (941) 922-8300.