Medialunas Calentitas: Uruguayan Crescents, Milongas, and Empanadas in Brickell

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Medialunas Calentitas debuted quietly in Brickell nearly three months ago. The fledgling restaurant chain from Punta del Este, Uruguay has locations in its founding city, as well as Montevideo and José Ignacio. It has a presence in Paraguay and Brazil, too. Its Brickell outpost, located at 919 Brickell Avenue adjacent to YoBlendz and Sushi Siam, is the chain's first restaurant in the United States.

Its specialty is the medialuna, a sort of miniature, croissant-like pastry that is smothered in a yellow, simple syrup. When I asked manager Ricardo Gauto what makes Uruguayan medialunas different from other varieties, he responded: "It's just a completely different recipe." Initially, Gauto said the medialuna's syrup topping was made only with sugar and water, but this duo of ingredients did not explain their vibrant golden hue.

The restaurant's chef then popped his head out of the kitchen. Holding a bulky thermos and sipping on some mate from a silver bombilla, he said, "It's food coloring. That's why the syrup is yellow."

Doused in lemon-colored food colorant, the crescent bread rolls are slightly sweet, tender, and soft. They are not flaky like a croissaint. Instead, they are buttery and smooth -- think less puff pastry, and a lot more dinner roll.

Medialunas are offered stuffed with ham and cheese, chocolate, and also dulce de leche. One dozen costs $12, and a plain crescent is just $1.40. The restaurant proffers empanadas at about $3. These include one dubbed "Argentina", stuffed with beef, garlic, onion, green olives, and cumin. Another, named the "Mexican", is filled with steak, tabacco, and chili.

There are also a variety of dulce de leche-stuffed desserts, pizzas and even a milonga dish -- Uruguayan-style milanesa, topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and oregano, served with mashed potatoes and coleslaw ($12).

According to Gauto, most diners come from the surrounding office buildings. There are many Uruguayans and Argentines who are already familiar with the brand, too. "These are the most famous medialunas in all of Latin America," says Gauto.

Brickell is already home to Kokoriko, chef Richard Sandoval's chicken rotisserie joint which is originally from Colombia. With Medialunas Calentitas, the neighborhood has yet another restaurant dawning from a Latin American chain.

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