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When I arrived at Confiteria Buenos Aires the following day, a Wednesday morning, it was evident that my friend's overprotectiveness was unwarranted -- or, more specifically, too late. The place was mobbed. And just as crowded the morning after. On Sunday it was a madhouse.
All with good reason: These are some of the finest Argentine baked goods in the city. I sang Don Pan's praises earlier this year, but that was in relation to other mass-produced pastries -- Buenos Aires is the real McCoy. Buenos Aires also is the city in which owner Anibal Costanso was born. He's been in America, and the bakery business, since 1972, which is when he started the original Buenos Aires bakery in Roosevelt, Queens. Daughter Monica manages this handsome outlet, which is warmly arrayed with wooden shelves around the perimeter of the room, some showcasing Argentine chardonnays, ciders, and beers, others stocked with Argentine and Uruguayan food imports like chorizos, wafers, and bags of tea. They use Italian coffee beans for their cappuccinos, cortados, and café cubanos, which get steamed and streamed out to customers in seemingly nonstop fashion.
The system works like this: You grab a basket and a number at the beginning of the line. When your number is called, you tell the worker what you want, hand him the basket, and gleefully observe him fill it up for you. Your choices will derive from three brightly lit glass display cases of tempting baked goods. One is devoted entirely to masas finas, or minipastries the size of petit fours (just 50 cents apiece). Another holds somewhat familiar cakes and desserts, like ricotta cheesecake, tiramisu, fruit tarts, flan, bread pudding, and an over-the-top Imperial Russo cake layered with dulce de leche, strawberries, peaches, cream, Napoleon dough, and meringue. Cakes are sold whole or by portion.
The case that people line up in front of and order breakfast from contains numerous facturas -- I like to think of them as Latin danishes. These include sacramentos, buns filled with dabs of quince; hojaldres topped with powdered sugar and pumped with dulce de leche; half-moon media lunas; and custard-riddled vigilantes. I don't think pasta floras are considered facturas, but the individual tartlettes of either apple, quince, pineapple, or cherry are seriously tasty with their thick shortbread crusts. The pastries are a bargain, almost all less than $2, most under $1.
More lunch-friendly treats include four varieties of homemade empanadas (ham and cheese, beef, chicken, and spinach); small pies of either ham and cheese, spinach, tuna or corn (tartas); potato or spinach tortillas (Spanish omelet); and sandwiches such as chicken or veal cutlet, prosciutto and cheese, and matambre, a potently garlicked cold cut. Sandwich rolls are freshly baked on the premises, as are other breads for sale -- try the uniquely crunchy pan con chicharrones.
There are some 30 seats at which to enjoy your purchases amid a convivial, mostly Spanish-speaking clientele. Don't feel intimidated if you don't speak the language: The women working the counter are bilingual, amazingly competent at their jobs, and have a good attitude, too. When the Anglo guy in front of me ordered uno pan grandy, they didn't so much as crack a smile. They didn't laugh at my own clumsy attempts at their language either, though I wisely kept my talk to a minimum by mainly pointing and nodding.
Confiteria Buenos Aires has been in operation for almost a year now and is simply too good to have remained a secret. Generally speaking, if a bakery isn't crowded, it isn't worth going to. Grab a number and get in line.