Pilar came on my radar, as it naturally would any Miami Cuban constantly questing for authentic Miami Cuban food in New York. Like most Cuban “cafeteria” style eateries, Pilar doesn’t miss a bongo beat with their cheap generous portions in a tiny casual space – so inconspicuously nestled in a nook on Brooklyn’s Classon Avenue, I walked right past it and only doubled back when I knew I’d gone too far.
But it shouldn’t surprise that the authenticity flag flies here; the owner himself is a Miami transplant. Ricardo Barreras migrated from our shared home turf to the big city about 15 years ago and brought his Cuban cooking know-how with him. And am I oh so grateful.
With a chalkboard menu scribbled with steadfast offerings like breakfast tostadas (pressed Cuban bread slathered with butter), a media noche sandwich (on real egg-bread), croquetas de jamon, and roasted pork pernil, I knew I had struck gold. Though many items (like the empanandas, much to my chagrin) run out by breakfast. Almost all the main dishes rotate as a daily specials, and this Wednesday was my lucky day: vaca frita day ($12.50, pictured above).
A fried favorite Cuban comfort food of mine, shredded steak is marinated and seared to a crisp. While this one was softer and less crispy than usual, the flavor was spot on and the soft braised morsels were welcomed just the same. The mojo-marinated roasted pork ($9.75) was also a must-try for me, and now, for you as well. If one knows anything about mojo, (the Cuban chimichurri if you will, but boasting way more garlic than would ever be advisable) one knows it is a meat marinade Godsend. The pernil pleasantly oozed that glorious sauce with every tender bite. Accompanied by white rice, beautiful soupy black beans (the only way) and Miami maduros (fried sweet plantains that are rarely prepared well), the filling entrees are a bang for your buck and your bite.
Authenticity also resonated with the impeccable pressed Cuban sandwich ($7.25) assembled as it should, with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. No fancy variations. No need; some things are to remain unchanged. Another classic was found in the daily Caldo Gallego soup ($5), a brothy Cuban cuisine staple that steamed with smoky ham and chorizo, punctuated with a viscosity from tender white beans and starchy potatoes.
But with tradition comes creativity. While the ham and cod croquetas ($1.75 each) tasted as if they were plucked straight from a Cuban bakery, Pilar also offers equally delicious ones filled with potato, leek and Gruyere – a fancy filling you may only find here. Another appreciated twist is found with the grilled cheddar cheese on nutty multi-grain ($6.50) – a non-Cuban sandwich made so with a spread of espresso (Bustelo, perhaps?) mustard and a stuffing of maduros (though their expected sweetness was not detectable).
The tostones (fried green plantains, $3.50) maintained their genuine crisp while the dipping mojo they were served with was curiously salty. The chickpea salad ($5) with cauliflower and olives was sodium-rich, but ample credit is given for branching beyond the cuisine’s constructs.
The guava jelly and cream cheese, usually found filling a pastelito (flaky Cuban pastry), is found here in pie form ($4.50). While it receives an honorable mention for effort, this classic combination is still best enjoyed encapsulated in its traditional dough. And it can’t be Cuban without the appearance of that sweet custardy delight called flan. The difficult balance of airy but creamy consistency was fully realized with their passion fruit version ($4.50) – and I realized I needed a bigger piece.
While you don’t need to be from Miami to appreciate good Cuban eats, this Miami-an assures Pilar’s is certified authentic. For the foreigners, welcome to Miami. For the natives, welcome home.
Pilar Cuban Eatery
393 Classon Avenue (between Greene and Clifton)
Brooklyn, NY 11238
Rebecca Kritzer is a Miami native turned New Yorker. After earning her B.A. in journalism from NYU, she toured the country, and parts of the world, as an actor in the Broadway musical, “In The Heights.” She has contributed to GO magazine, The Village Voice, NYU LiveWire, Washington Square News, BrooklynExposed.com, Joonbug.com and CityPath.com. She also dabbles in photography and has a motorcycle license. Rebecca’s constant affinity is for food: she loves to prepare it, eat it, talk and write about it, and is always on the hunt to find the next best place that does noteworthy things with it.