Empanada Joe’s Disproves Positive Comments With Their Food
Yesterday Eater felt the need to single out Empanada Joe’s with their own “Adventures in Shilling” post, pointing out many positive comments that could have only been posted by people with a financial interest in the new chain succeeding. We just got our own Empanada Joe’s location (the second in the chain) on 8th Ave. btw. 43+44th, and I believe they have been doing a little shilling on Midtown Lunch as well. Take this comment for example:
Critically panned? Not by all the happy customers I saw when I tried it out. Personally, I’d rather pay three-something for an item from a nice clean restaurant than two-something from a street vendor whose cart has been God only knows where. Liked all the empanadas I tried: the Argentine beef, the Dolce sausage and peppers and the pina colada. It’s definitely a nice change of pace. See you in line.
I can’t be entirely sure that this comment was a shill, but there are some hints. “All the happy customers” is not something a normal person would necessarily notice, and “See you in line” is not something you would usually say to a bunch of strangers on a website. But the biggest proof may be in the food itself. I tried Empanada Joe’s the other day… and while I will stop short of saying it’s terrible- it’s not exactly going to engender an army of enthusiastic commenters.
It’s always tough trying to take fast food and make it healthy, while keeping it just as delicious. Empanadas are essentially pastries, stuffed with meat and/or cheese and deep fried. Not exactly health food. Sure, there are baked versions, but the good ones are stuffed with greasy meat, and greasy cheese (mmmm…. greasy cheese). Not exactly low fat. And that’s what makes them delicious! That’s why we love them! Now, I’m all for taking something bad for you, and making it healthier (see Zen Burger), as long as you can keep it tasting good. And that is the challenge for Empanada Joe’s.
Serve frozen empanadas off a cart, and you can afford to charge $2 for them. Serve them out of a glossy, new fast food restaurant, and you are going to pay the price. Each empanada is $3+, but they have two lunchtime combos available: 2 empanadas, rice and a soda for $8 and 3 empanadas, rice and a soda for “the just outside the Midtown Lunch price range of” $11. They have some tasty sounding choices as well; rio chicken (chicken, bell peppers, spanish onions, cajun spices), rojo pulled pork (authentic bbq pork in sweet and savory spices), Argentine beef (organic beef, onions, peppers, and spices), and dolce sausage & peppers (sausage, fresh peppers, onions, and special spices). Plus some vegetarian options, like the Mediterranean Caprese (mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and basil) and the Veggie mama (mushrooms, spanish onions, and a zesty sauce). There’s also a number of dessert empanadas, including the pina colada (mentioned by the enthusiastic commenter above), the chocolate and banana and the cinnamon apple.
They are baked (i.e. more healthy) and come out with a little imprint in the corner letting you know what kind of empanada it is. Very cute! Although clearly they’re not trying to trick you into thinking you’re getting some of kind of artesenal, homemade treat.
Finally, the ingredients are top notch. Low on calories, plus no hormones or antibiotics. I like it all… but it was also free of something else: flavor. I like eating “healthy” meat filled pastries just as much as the next guy, but can a brother get some salt? They give you three dipping sauces (bbq, hot sauce, chipotle mayo) but none of them were good (hot sauce wasn’t hot enough, BBQ sauce is gross, and the mayo sauce… is… well… mayo sauce.)
Mind you, none of the empanadas we tried tasted terrible… they were more like- blah. Of course I like pastries enough that I probably wouldn’t have minded the lunch so much it if it hadn’t been for the rice. 2 empanadas and a soda for $8 is a rip off. Add the “delicious signature rice” and I’ll bite. That sounds like a filling lunch. Only one problem… and I don’t mind saying this because I can’t imagine anybody would disagree. The rice is disgusting. Cold (fine); undercooked (not fine). Mixed with peas and carrots (ok), plus some sort of cheese substance (would be great, if it wasn’t so sucky.) This cold, cheese rice stuff was inexplicable. Not only did I not know what I was eating, but I could only manage two bites before I completely gave up. I can’t even tell you what the taste was they were trying to go for. Absolutely terrible, and it literally and figuratively left a bad taste in my mouth.
Alright… because it’s hard for me to totally hate on any lunch place that is willing to do something different in Midtown, I will say this. There are people who will like Empanada Joe’s. There are people who will go, and say- “this isn’t bad” or “this is a nice change of pace” (the one true thing the guy above said). It’s healthier, it’s clean, and you know exactly what you are eating. There are alot of people who hold these qualities to be the most important. But if you are an empanada lover at heart, looking for strong flavors, you will find Empanada Joe’s to be overpriced and not worth it. For something that is made with care, uses organic and hormone free meat, plus is less fattening than your average lunch, I am totally willing to sacrifice a little extra money, and a small amount of flavor. Empanada Joe’s is just asking me to sacrifice a bit too much of the latter.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- It is baked, so it’s less fattening than your average empanda, and not greasy at all
- All the meat is organic and hormone free
- Vegetarians should be very happy with their three savory empanada options on the menu
- The place is clean, and you know exactly what you’re eating
- If you don’t like greasy food with a ton of spices, these are the emapandas for you
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Needs salt
- Needs flavor
- Needs a spicy hot sauce
- Needs to be less healthy
- Needs to be more authentic
- Needs to be cheaper
- Needs to throw away the “signature rice” recipe and start from scratch
Empanada Joe’s, 683 8th Ave. (btw. 43+44th)