Carla Meneses had an idea to pick up a few extra bucks by selling empanadas to the public. She was encouraged by her husband, Fernando Serrano, who told her there were no other empanadas like hers in Tulsa.
“I tried selling empanadas at Guthrie Green, but I discovered you had to have permits and all of that,” said Meneses, a native of Ecuador.
Meneses and Serrano decided to try a different route together. They applied to Kitchen 66, an entrepreneurial program for aspiring food businesses. They were accepted, and following graduation, they landed a spot in the new Archer Building in the Tulsa Arts District. A little more than two weeks ago, they opened Que Gusto.
Que Gusto features food from the highlands of Ecuador, where pork, beef, chicken, yucca, potatoes and plantains are the most common ingredients. They are found most often in empanadas — pastries, like turnovers, stuffed with sweet or savory fillings.
“Our empanadas are all hand-made,” Meneses said. “We roll out the dough and make the fillings. It can be a lot of work.”
All of the empanadas are baked, except for a plantain-and-cheese empanada ($3). It’s small and rich and goes great with a strong cup of coffee.
Though a slow-roast pork sandwich ($9.50) looked mighty tempting for our main course, we instead chose a pork empanada ($8) and arroz con pollo ($9.25), along with a quinoa-and-black bean salad ($5) to share.
The empanada was filled with chunks of tender pork and potato and a little onion in a savory sauce, all wrapped in a thin layer of dough that was baked to a light golden brown.
Other empanada choices include ground beef and olives, organic chicken breast and cilantro, portobello mushrooms and seitan, and portobello mushrooms, seitan and parsley, the last two vegan and vegetarian, respectively.
Those on gluten-free regimens should stay away from seitan. It’s a meat substitute made from wheat gluten and consists almost entirely of gluten. The menu does have three gluten-free items — yucco bread, arroz con vegetales and sweet plantain cake.
The arroz con pollo included chunks of tender chicken in a bed of moist rice flecked with tiny bits of onion, bell pepper and carrots. A plantain cut in half was draped across the top. I found it favorable to get a little of everything in one bite.
Yucca fries (often spelled yuca and not to be confused with the desert cactus) come from the cassava plant and look and taste similar to potatoes. Ketchup is not a condiment choice at Que Gusto. It does offer a salsa and a parsley sauce, but in terms of freshness, taste and texture, the yucca fries can stand on their own.
The quinoa-and-black bean salad had a pleasing flavor, though I could have used a lighter touch on the chopped bell pepper. Just a personal preference.
For dessert, we had a thick, round dulce de leche cookie ($3) filled with milk caramel and sprinkled with coconut on the outside edges, and tiramisu ($4), featuring layers of sponge cake soaked in coffee and brandy with mascarpone cheese.
“I know tiramisu is Italian, but my husband said mine is too good to leave off the menu,” Meneses said.
No argument here. I also must commend my wife for showing great restraint by not purchasing every last dulce de leche cookie available that day. They are that good.
Breakfast selections, served to 10:30 a.m. (all day Sunday), include omelets, house-made rustic bread, muesli, oats, yucca bread, yogurt smoothie and sweet empanada filled with a sweet cheese custard.
Most of the ingredients are organic and contain no trans fats. The chicken is non-GMO, antibiotic-free and cage-free with no hormones or steroids.
In addition to horchata, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and water, Que Gusto has a small but workable selection of four craft beers, two red wines and prosecco. The slightly bubbly prosecco with just a hint of sweetness went well with our food choices on a hot afternoon.
Food and most drinks are served in paper containers, and the utensils are wooden. All of the packaging is biodegradable or recyclable.
The dining room is small. It has two four-top tables and a bench seat with four round tables. The tables have the bench seat on one side and small stools on the other. My wife thought the stools were shaped like drums. They reminded me of my old 7th Infantry Division shoulder insignia, or a crushed beer can. It also has two sidewalk tables.
Meneses and Serrano and their two children came to the U.S. in 2012 from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, a city of almost 3 million that sits 9,350 feet above sea level. Serrano had received a job offer here from a friend in property management.
“My mom had a restaurant business in Ecuador, and I grew up loving it,” Meneses said. “Now, I love it here, and we love living in such a nice, small city like Tulsa.”