When Mi Empanada opens in Lawrenceville next month, patrons will get a taste of something new yet familiar.
The couple bakes Argentine pastries packed with savory filling. Think of empanadas as the culinary cousin of the pierogi.
“It’s the most American food that Americans don’t know about yet,” says Ivan Gil-Silva, who co-owns the business with his girlfriend, Rachel Jenkins. “It’s a high-quality food that is very approachable and very easy to eat.”
Gil-Silva grew up in Argentina, where folks eat salteña-style hand pies as snacks, appetizers and entrees. When he moved to Pittsburgh in 2001, he brought the family recipes with him.
The couple started making empanadas for friends at their South Side apartment. As demand grew, they turned the hobby into a business, moving operations to a commissary kitchen at Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville.
They’ve catered pop-up events throughout the city, from gallery crawls to concerts, and have sold their goods in local shops such as Black Forge Coffee House and Adda Coffee & Tea House. Customers can sample their eats at a pop-up event on Jan. 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Arriviste Coffee Bar in Shadyside.
They have six flagship empanadas, including one filled with slow-cooked beef, eggs, pancetta, olives and rustic spices. Others are stuffed with chicken, ham and cheese, sweet potato and black beans, spinach and white sauce or humita, a vegan offering made with fresh corn and squash.
Once they open their grab-and-go storefront at 4034 Butler St., they’ll expand the menu. It will include seasonal empanadas, chipas (a chewy cheese bread), Milanesa sandwiches made with country-fried steak or chicken, gluten-free items and traditional Argentine sides, desserts and beverages.
The menu is limited because Gil-Silva and Jenkins want every item on it to be the best.
They’re happy to serve foodies who are open to new cuisine, pint-sized picky eaters and folks who don’t like to venture too far out of their culinary comfort zone. Empanadas, they say, are the perfect meal for everybody.