On a quest for a late lunch, some friends stumbled upon Merengue Bakery & Cafe. A new cuban restaurant, located on Colorado Blvd, just east of Myrtle (the same block as Peach Cafe and the now closed Canadian Cafe.).
It's not affiliated with Porto's at all, but - if you've been to Porto's - it made all of us think an ex-employee decided to venture out on their own. The menu is very similar - with some variances (including a potato ball filled with cheese instead of meat). But, then again - perhaps this is how all Cuban bakeries are set up. We did use Porto's as the benchmark of comparison.
It's a wait in line to order, pay, get a number and take a seat type of place. It's a large, well air-conditioned and decently spaced room. There's a large glass case that takes up the length of the ordering area - filled with whole cakes and individual desserts and bakery goodies.
It was late in the afternoon and there were only a handful of patrons. Service was prompt and very friendly. We were given our 'appetizers' at the counter when we paid and the sandwiches didn't take very long to come out.
First up: Meat Pies - their version "Pastele de Carne". It was a similar size as Porto's... upon cutting into it, though, a noticeable difference. Porto's pastry is light and flaky. This pastry was more solid and harder to cut through. Biting into it also proved a tough, dense texture. It had some flakiness to the outside layer, but whatever was binding it (butter, lard, etc.) made it a much heavier consistency. The filling was very tasty and no noticeable difference from the Porto's version. Preference: Porto's version, hands down.
Next: Potato Balls - w/ meat filling. From the looks of it, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference... I cut into it - it seemed to have more potato than meat (compared to Portos). The most noticeable difference was the outside crust. It was more of a crust than Portos - so much so, on the pieces I cut, the potato was starting to separate from the crust shell. The outside was also harder to chew than the Porto's version. One of my dining companions commented that the potato filling had a slightly different taste - almost like it had more butter. I don't know if I would have picked up on the variance in taste if she had not mentioned it - but there was a creamier taste to this potato. All that said, If I hadn't realized it was from another place, I would have thought Porto's overcooked their dough for this batch. If it wasn't for the crust, this would have been a winner in my book. But, if you like a crunchy outside - boy, are these for you!
Next: Potato Balls - w/ cheese filling. I did not try this, but it was given two thumbs up.
Two sandwiches were sampled: The Cuban and Medianoche. Both are identical with the difference being the bread. The former is served on cuban bread the other served on sweet bread. They definitely do not skimp on the meats. The sandwich was a generous portion and much larger (more fillings and slightly longer) than the Porto's version (comparing the Medainoche). Of the two, the Medianoche was the preferred sandwich. The sandwich was not warm enough for my tastes and it would have been better had the cheese been more melted. The cuban sandwich bread seemed a bit on the dry side for all of us. Even though it had less meat on it - Porto's Medianoche wins in my taste test. I love how Porto's press down and meld all the flavors together for their version.
Next: Cheese Roll: again, pastry had a different, tougher consistency - but this item was harder for me to tell the difference than the Porto's version (probably because I don't get cheese rolls often).
Next: Guava & Cheese Roll: I did not try this, but was told the pastry was - again - on the hard side.
Price points - for the 'appetizers' it's very comparable to Porto's.... $.90 for the meat pie, $.99 for the potato ball. The sandwiches were more than Porto's - $6.75 - but decently priced for what was received.
We all agreed this would be a decent alternative to those coming from the east that didn't want to shelp all the way to Glendale or Burbank. However, it was by no means in the same league as Porto's. One the positive side: There were no crazy lines or crowds to navigate through and all the employees were extremely helpful and pleasant. I'd imagine it would also be a good spot for cakes.
If I were not the Porto's fan that I am, I don't think I would have been disappointed in my experience there. But, I left with that "now, that was a waste of calories" type of feeling. And that's never a good thing. If only they could make their pastry dough less dense - they would certainly give Porto's a run for it's money, in my book.
They have slightly later hours than Porto's: They open at 7am daily, and til 8pm M-Th, 9pm Friday, 6pm Saturday and 4pm Sunday and give a 15% senior discount on Mondays.
Merengue Bakery and Cafe
110 E Colorado Blvd, Monrovia, CA 91016