Among the more recent additions to Morristown's collection of Latin American establishments is –not to be confused with the most recent addition, .
Located on Morris Street by and , Raul's has built a successful business in the last three years, and after one visit, it's easy to see why.
The dining space isn't the most comfortable. Long and narrow, small tables and stools line the center of the space, while stools and small counters line the bright blue and orange walls. Fortunately, Raul's also has a table and chair in each front window–one of the more awkward places to sit, but also the most comfortable.
The young woman behind the counter could not have been more friendly and helpful. Without knowing that a Morristown Patch column was behind my visit, she took pride in describing the menu. She said she enjoyed walking first-timers through the empanadas and the sauces.
For a first-time visitor, she suggested the Raul's beef or Raul's chicken empanadas. But then she continued, describing her favorites on the menu: five sausage and lime, pepper cheese steak, buffalo wing and jornalero mason.
Advised that two or three empandas would fill me up, I chose the five sausage and lime and the jornalero mason. In lieu of a third, I ordered a side of sweet plantains.
Coming from the Spanish verb “empanar,” or “to wrap,” an empanada is a piece of dough wrapped around a filling, which can include an number of ingredients, from beef, chicken, potatoes or spinach to guava, pineapple or dulce de leche.
Coincidentally, my editor asked me to review Raul's Empanada Town just as I was finishing reading Laura Schenone's The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken. In an often touching memoir, the New Jersey native documents her obsession with ravioli as she searches her roots for an authentic family recipe. In her research, she finds that so many cultures have their own ravioli-like dumpling. The Polish have pierogi, the Indians have samosas, and the Chinese have wontons and potstickers.
And the Spanish and Latin American cultures have empanadas.
“Let me know how you like them,” the young Salvadoran woman behind the counter said as she brought my tray to me.
As Cash Cab showed on the television above the counter and Latin American music played from the speakers, I sat in my perch looking out on the Midtown Shopping Center and carefully cut into my two empanadas.
The dough was rough and crispy on the outside, reminiscent of a corn meal, and soft on the inside. The five sausages—Columbian, Italian, Mexican, Argentinean and Spanish–and lime empanada was a slightly salty, smoky and spicy mix of minced pork, with the faintest hint of citrus. It wasn't until after I had finished most of the empanada that I was able to distinguish the individual tastes of Italian and Spanish sausages. A wedge of fresh lime, a favorite accompaniment to Mexican and Latin American dishes, would have complemented this well.
The jornalero mason was a mix of tiny tender, lean marinated chunks of beef tenderloin, with rice and beans–a far cry from the ground beef one might expect in a beef empanada.
With each, I sampled Raul's three sauces, available at a self serve counter next to the soda fountain. A refreshing mix of lemon juice, cilantro, onions, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, the criollo sauce is like a pico de gallo, but not as chunky. My favorite, the sweeter mango habanero, starts with the criollo sauce but also includes mangoes and habenero peppers. In between is the creamy chipotle, a mix of cream and smoked hot peppers.
The plantains were served very hot, slightly sweet and not at all heavy or greasy, as some plaintain fries can be. These filled me up some, but not enough. I returned to the counter and ordered a Raul's beef empanada, a simple, satisfying empanada with tiny marinated chunks of beef tenderloin.
Many more beckoned on the menu, from Cuban, Hawaiian and Puerto Rican empanadas on the regular menu to the intriguing fig and goat cheese empanada. But alas, they will have to wait. Three empanadas, one order of plantains and a few refills of root beer had me full.
This made for an enjoyable dinner, and I imagine Raul's also makes for an enjoyable stop after a few drinks at a local bar. A few of these empanadas can easily soak up some booze and prevent a hangover. And lastly, let's not forget the most important meal of the day: Raul's also serves breakfast empanadas, filled with bacon, sausage, eggs and cheese.
I left recalling Schenone's words: All the world's a dumpling, and everybody loves dumplings. Whether you're a pork lover or a vegetarian, whether you're eating breakfast or stopping in for a late night snack, Raul's has an empanada for you.