Home Depot and the Latin-flavored bakery chain Don Pan are inextricably linked in my mind, and not just because I am an unabashed fan of both places. Whenever I pull into the Depot parking lot, I salivate with Pavlovian anticipation, knowing from habit that after stocking up on house supplies I'll head to the Don Pan on the corner and have Cuban coffee with a golfeado, which is best described as a square, dense, cinnamon roll with cheese. Or a cachito, an elongated roll baked with a generous amount of thinly sliced ham (with or without cheese). Sometimes I'll go light with coconut bread or pan de Gloria, both puffy donutlike rolls, bites of sweetened air that are better and, at 39 cents apiece, less expensive than anything Dunkin' Donuts has to offer.
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It is with a certain amount of pride that I remind people of my being ahead of the curve concerning Don Pan. Whenever the place comes up in conversation (which, granted, isn't often), I proffer my opinion with the sort of jaded been there-done-that nonchalance a foodie might exhibit when responding to chatter about a trendy restaurant. "Don Pan? Oh yes, I've grown quite fond of the place since I first started going there in 1995." That's the year the original branch opened at Flagler and 107th Street. Since then the company, owned by the Gorrin family of Venezuela, has risen faster than a batch of Martha White biscuits. Twenty-two Pans currently span South Florida.
It looks like an ordinary bakery with tables and chairs, only bigger -- spacious enough, really, that if you wished to Rollerblade around with an eclair you could do so without great risk of spilling your custard on anyone. The color scheme is white with pink trim, the ambiance bright and cheery in food franchise-formulated fashion, but the interior design is more accurately defined by glass display cases manifesting a multitude of tempting treats: Napoleons, eclairs, and mini fruit tarts. European-style cakes all brightly studded in red by way of strawberries and maraschino cherries. Cookies (including everybody's favorite, black and whites). Baguettes and loaves of country, whole wheat, and cheese breads. Traditional Latin desserts like flan, tres leches, and a variety of glistening dulce de leche concoctions. All manner of breakfast pastries -- croissants, cheese Danish (referred to as "quesadilla"), and strudels filled with apple, guava, cherry, or cheese.
4230 SW 8th St and various locations
305-446-4678. Open daily from 7:00 a.m. till 9:00 p.m.
Don Pan in the afternoon calls for a tropical fruit shake of mango, tamarindo, kiwi, or banana along with one of a half-dozen sandwiches from which to choose. I'm partial to the ham and cheese on fresh baguette, heftily stuffed and adeptly melted in a press. The price is $3.99, and I can assure you it makes the prissy $8.95 sandwiches served in restaurants around town seem like a too-obvious hoax. Arepas also make a gratifying lunch snack, as do chicken empanadas with shreds of savorily seasoned meat in smooth, earth-colored crust.
I can't say I've never come across a sullen Don Pan employee, but for the most part the counter staffs at the various outlets are cordial and of good cheer. Naturally not all of them get as excited as I over the golfeados, but I suppose after a few years of daily exposure to them my enthusiasm might dim as well. I may be tested on that point, as signs on storefront windows at NE Second Street and Second Avenue herald the coming of a Don Pan in downtown Miami. I'm told it should be up and running in about five weeks, at which point I have a feeling I'll find myself spending less time fixing up the apartment and more time at the library. Should any trustees or members of the local literary community wish to come over and welcome me, I'll be easy to spot. Just look for the guy who's drooling.