I’ve trumbled past the pocket-sized storefront of Cachitos on St. Catherine when making the trek from Place des Arts to St. Denis many times and never did more than glance at its sunny, corporate looking logo and walk on. There are reliable (= beloved) eateries within hoofing distance and I am suspicious of places that opt to look like franchises. But, noticing the steady river of Spanish-speaking patrons making their way through the door, it seems like time to test the little Venezuelan pastry shop with “le pain nouveau.”
“Le pain nouveau” are cachitos — oblong shaped rolls, approximately the size and shape of a large hotdog bun, that contain different fillings inside. They are similar to the now-ubiquitous empanada, but have a different shape and use different ingredients in the dough. These cachitos are smooth on the outside and coated with what is probably an egg wash to give them a slight crunch. The dough is akin to those of giant pretzels of the sort one gets from pushcarts in NYC or even a Montreal style bagel. As a warning to one expecting an empanada — don’t. The bready outside is pillowy and thick, while the filling only makes up about a 1/4 of the volume.
I order the beef cachito ($3.80). The pastry is filled with ground beef and small pieces of onions. The beef has a slight tomato base – very light – and gentle warming spice. The enthusiastic cashier insists I take a paper cup of white, mayonnaise-based sauce that has dill and some other herbs mixed in. “They go together,” she assures me. She’s right. Together, the warm, blend of spiced beef inside the thick, chewy dough, touched with cool piquant mayonnaise makes for a balanced sensation. My assessment: the pocket-sized pastry is a carnival of spiced deliciousness and taste complexity.
Cachitos come in a large variety of combinations, depending on the day. Ham and cheese is their bestseller, but other interesting options include guava jam and salty cheese, spinach and ricotta cheese, smoked salmon with capers and creamed cheese. Since it is Christmas, Pan de Jamon is also available; this is a cachito bread stuffed with ham, olives, and raisins.
Venezuelans know a thing or two about coffee. Cachitos uses BC gourmet 49th Parallel to make its drinks. There is the standard coffee and espresso, but a range of caffeinated drinks from down south are on offer. I stick with the normal filter sort, but the people beside me go for a pair of Cafechitos, a cappuccino style drink made using sweetened condensed milk, coffee, and cocoa. I notice another patron goes for the Bonbon, a drink that mixes espresso with sweetened condensed milk. The most popular drink of choice, though, is the house lemonade (Papelon con Limon) made using cane sugar.
In addition to the cachitos, a selection of South American style pastries are available. I pass up the Tres Leches cake (a cake with 3 types of milk) and the Alfajores (a cookie filled with dulce de leche) and opt for a selection of tiny pastries. They are tiny gems with a chewy, marshmallowy merengue topping, each about a loonie in diameter. I started with the lime tartlet. The crunchy, sweet base holds a cooling, tart tang of lime in a gelatinous base. It hits my tongue like a tiny party and I am all too sad to see it go in three very delicate bites. I follow this up with its cousin in passionfruit. Again, a nice balance of tart and sweet, with a crunchy sweet base and a soft cloud of merengue on top, dusted with coconut. I am wrong in thinking I’ve saved the best for last with a dulce de leche cupcake in miniature. It is a miniature cupcake slathered with dulce de leche. One bite confirms I should have quit while I was ahead with the tarts. The cupcake is dry and crumbly, while the dulce de leche paste is a not-surprisingly oversweet offense. However, I can easily forgive one tiny pastry considering that everything else in Cachitos shows attention to detail in terms of taste and texture. This exquisite gem is not one to miss.
Cachitos is located at 153 St. Catherine East. M 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., T-F 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sat 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Drink prices: Coffee $1.59/1.89. Espresso $1.80. Bonbon (coffee made with condensed milk) $2.25. Cappuccino $3.20/3.85. Latte $3.20/ 3.85. Cafechito (coffee, chocolate, and condensed milk) $3.49/4.25. Lemonade $2.