What: Argentinian food, coffee and atmosphere at a comfortable neighborhood location.
Where: 1298 S. Broadway, Denver
Neighborhood: Platt Park
When: Monday – Saturday, 7:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., Sundays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Pro: The Food and coffee are prepared artfully in a homey atmosphere.
Con: The social environment is not conducive to getting work done, if that’s your intention.
Coffee shops generally boast similar qualities: excellent espresso, relaxing atmosphere and friendly staff. The art on the walls may vary and the staff probably plays slightly different music, but the same staples are always there. Down on Broadway, however, there is a coffee shop which advertises particularly unique attributes: empanadas, Argentinian coffee drinks, and an espresso machine blessed by the Pope. At Maria Empanada, customers get not only great food and coffee, but the experience of a different culture without actually traveling to a different country.
“In Buenos Aires, when you’re having a chat, maybe you’re chatting about religion or politics and that can take hours; you need your coffee,” says Lorena Cantarovici the owner of Maria Empanada. Inspired by the spirited hours people would spend at cafes over coffee and empanadas, Cantarovici decided to provide a space like that for the people of Denver.
She says that the initial reason behind opening Maria Empanada was the “necessity of empanadas.” Having been so used to eating empanadas on a regular basis in Argentina, when she moved here she started making them for herself and her family. She soon was making them for friends and then friends of friends and the business grew from there. It became so successful that she moved from her small shop in Lakewood to a larger location in Denver to accommodate the growing number of customers.
All of these customers are made to feel comfortable socializing and interacting in the friendly, bright environment. “You’re not going to see a lot of people here with a computer, sitting by themselves,” explains Cantarovici, “You’re going to see two friends here chatting so there’s more connection, more communication.” She wants her shop to be a place where people come and spend quality time with the people in their lives while enjoying something delicious to eat or drink.
Though primarily an empanada shop, one that has been heralded by many reviewers in Denver, Maria Empanada now has a substantial coffee menu. The shop serves Kaladi Bros. coffee and can make any typical espresso drinks in addition to a couple Argentinian specialties on the menu.
There is a cortadito available which is an Argentinian-style cortado, a drink made with a double shot of espresso and then a minimal amount of steamed milk mixed in. For something even more interesting, there is the submarine hot chocolate, which is a cup of steamed milk that a chocolate bar is then dunked into. As the chocolate is stirred into the milk it slowly melts creating a creamy and ultra-chocolatey drink which leaves all of the left over gooey chocolate in the bottom of the glass to scoop out once the drink is finished. “That is satisfaction,” says Cantarovici of the sweet beverage. Head barista, Dustin Gregory also created his own drink to share with the customers, the nute latte, a latte made with actual Nutella, a creation born to be a crowd favorite.
The large silver espresso machine is an impressive sight, and a feature with an even more impressive backstory. There were only 100 of these particular Victoria Arduino’s made and they were sent to the Vatican City to be blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. He kept number one and the rest were sent all over the world to places such as Dubai and Korea. Only three remain in the United States and number 25 rests at Maria Empanada. So not only is the coffee delicious, and inspired by Argentinian heritage, but it’s holy coffee as well.
Cantarovici is happy that people have started coming to enjoy the coffee as much as the empanadas. She wants the feeling that people get in cafes in Argentina where they can sit with one espresso for hours. “Don’t feel obligated to buy an empanada,” she says, “because we want you here, we want you chatting.” The comfortable feeling that each customer is welcome and that someone wants them there is clear from Cantarovici waving to customers coming and going, calling out “Gracias!” or “Ciao!” It makes for a particularly special experience when in addition to delicious coffee and food, it feels as though there was a personal invite for each customer. As Gregory explains, “It feels like you’re in another country, but at home still”
All photography by Glenn Ross.