Visit Café Nena’i in Austin, Texas to taste South American pastries!
I love pastries! I gather some Austin favorites in an annual best pastries list. Thinking about the many bakeries in Austin and their cultural origins made me want to start a series where I dive deeper than the list. Pastries in Austin features the pastries and bakers and the countries and traditions that inspire them.
I have yet to visit South America, and I figured getting to know the flavors in Austin would be a good place to start. Café Nena’i opened in February 2017 and the light-filled cafe is a sweet place to stop for a South American pastry and coffee.
The café is a sweet and quiet shop decorated in white, black, gold, and a touch of red. Co-owner Elena Sanguinetti bakes all the delicious pastries at Café Nena’i. “Nena’i,” a nickname Elena had growing up, means ‘little girl’ in Paraguayan Guarani. The name serves as a reminder of dreams coming true for any and all girls, just as her dream of sharing her cooking has come true with this café. Elena’s talents in baking are brightening up the east side of Austin with the help of her daughter and co-founder Gladys Benitez’s skills in marketing and business.
The Café Nena’i menu is inspired by Elena’s home country, Paraguay, and includes tastes from Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela. The South American flavors and traditions are well represented in the pastries, empanadas, sandwiches, and drinks. Baked fresh every day, the confituras (sweets) are what I gravitated towards first. They’re beautifully displayed on the counter and it’s hard to choose only one!
- Alfajor – cookie sandwich with dulce de leche and coconut flakes
- Pastafrola – guava tart
- Torta de Miel – sugar cane cake
- Bollo – filled doughnuts (choose dulce de leche or guava)
- Medialunas – Argentine croissants, may be filled
The pastafrola was my favorite out of the confituras. The guava was perfectly portioned on the pastry. As I learned from Elena, Greeks have a similar pastry but they call it pastaflora. Upon further research, I found out the name of the dish comes from an Italian word and is thought to have come to South America through Italian immigrants. From the look and taste, it reminded me of a Thanksgiving pie or Czech kolache. These days, fusion restaurant concepts are newsworthy, and it’s interesting how cultures did this organically and created dishes we enjoy today.
There are also a handful of savory pastries available.
- Empanada – filled with beef, ham, chicken, or spinach and cheese
- Arepa – corn pastry with eggs, ham, and cheese
- Chipa – Paraguayan cheese bread
- Sandwiches – beef Milanese, ham and cheese, or Nutella
You can get your caffeine fix here. They’re set up for a “cafecito” (Cuban espresso) and other coffee drinks. Other than coffee, they have fresh orange juice and a fridge of bottled drinks.
The pastries are a hit, the décor is eye-catching, and it’s a quiet place to get some work done. If you’re looking to try some South American pastries in Austin, you’ll need to stop by Café Nena’i!
Address: 1700 Montopolis Dr, Austin, TX 78741
Hours: Tuesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Have you ever tried South American pastries?