Ricardo Barreras expected to find more Cuban bakeries in New York. Along with cafés, they’re an everyday feature of his hometown neighborhood of Little Havana, a vibrant expat community that’s helped define Miami’s culture for decades. But in Brooklyn, he just couldn’t find a proper surrogate.
Ten years ago, Barreras and his wife, Lisbeth, opened Pilar Cuban Eatery to fill part of that void. After outgrowing their initial space, they moved Pilar in 2015 to the corner of Greene and Bedford avenues in Bed-Stuy, a few blocks from Clinton Hill. Now the business is growing again, this time adding a Cuban bakery and coffee shop that harks back to Barreras’s roots.
Pilar Cuban Bakery, located next door to the restaurant, opened a few weeks ago. The small, well-lit café, which includes several two-top tables for casual dining, is dominated by a long display case that brims with baked goods and sweets. Most of them are relatively affordable, like the satisfying guava pastelito pastry ($2.50) and the worthwhile beef and potato relleno ($3), a dense ball that’s stuffed and fried.
Located between the Classon and Bedford-Nostrand G train stops, Pilar adds to the coffee options in the vicinity; within two blocks, locals can find at least five other choices. Pilar capitalizes on that, using espresso from nearby Kitten Coffee for its cortado, latte and cappuccino. But the shop’s coffee offerings are also unique; not only does Pilar focus on Cuban drinks like café con leche, Cafecito and colada (espresso designed for sharing) but the space also boasts a walkup window.
Incorporating the takeout window adds convenience, and it’s another way that Barreras is resurrecting the traditions of his upbringing in Miami; coffee windows are common in Little Havana, according to Barreras.
The menu at Pilar Cuban Bakery does include some heartier options, including the $9 media noche sandwich, a Cubano served on a semi-sweet egg bread. But the move here is fast fare, whether it’s the memorable chorizo, egg and cheese empanada ($4.50) or a couple small croquetas—fried, finger-shaped bites with ingredients like bacalao (salt cod) or potato, leek and cheese for just $2.
Better yet, opt for some of the desserts. Everything inside the display case looks enticing, but the winners may be the cup of arroz con leche or a slice of the Key lime pie, which really allows the taste of the lime to shine and is enough to make you come back all on its own.
It would be a mistake to come to Pilar and miss the Cuban bread, which is part of the reason Barreras expanded the restaurant in the first place. The bread, which is proofed and baked in-house, is a soft and fluffy baguette made with lard (though Pilar has an option without the lard, too). Order it plain for $3 or grab a Cuban tostada with butter—a traditional favorite alongside café con leche—for the same price.
It makes most sense to frequent the bakery in the morning, snagging a batido (Cuban milkshake), juice or coffee alongside a breakfast empanada. Alternately, stop in for a quick bite, especially if you’re in the mood for baked goods. The restaurant next door is still king of the sit-down experience and offers a full menu of prepared dishes from the beefy Cuban favorite ropa vieja to vegan entrées like the quimbombo with stewed okra and chickpeas. But the adjoining bakery is a welcome addition, especially for anyone who’s in a rush or who longs for Miami.
Photos courtesy of Pilar Cuban Bakery.