Review of Confiteria Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe

It’s debatable whether reading great literature makes one a better (moral) person. One only has to think about the numerous crimes against humanity orchestrated by elites during the past century in every country in the world — who have surely read great literature during their formative years at the greatest universities and colleges in the world — to realize the poverty of the question. And yet, I have anecdotal evidence, first-person accounts, of how reading great literature has definitely enriched my life. Let me share one such morsel with you.

Picture this: Tahir and I had recently relocated to South Florida, which meant we had yet to discover the seamier sides of life oozing from every South Florida nook and cranny like some seriously overstuffed eclair. Although our encounters with various landlords in the epic search for a livable rental unit ought to have alerted us that we were not in the midwest any more. So we had yet to grow, oh, something about the character of life here in South Florida, and had decided to get on the eastern-most highway in the U.S.A., US 1 and its oceanfront extension A1A, for a leisurely drive south toward the fabled beaches of Miami.

It was a Sunday in August, before Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, and a whole host of lesser females and males who shall remain, at least in this brief essay, anonymous, and before those excruciating three and a half weeks without electricity. It was before that cab dispatcher and his bizarre comments to me over the telephone about how “really nice” and “a good Midwesterner” I seemed to be, he having concluded these things from the way I ordered a cab to take me to the airport. Ah, yes, the contours of life along the sandy beaches, most of them privately owned, of Florida.

As we leisurely drove south, the buildings and foliage were a brilliant and vulgar and breathtaking assault on the eyes. The bold palettes of palms and flowering bushes and trees were simply astonishing. Upon crossing numerous city limits (actually small towns and resorts crowded together), we could immediately assess the relative wealth of the zip codes, just by the way the coral and pink houses looked spectacular and Art Deco in one spot, next to European cars and sculpted gardens; and sad and dingy in the next spot, sharing the block with a strip joint, a fast food outlet, and an occasional lonely palm. As someone we have met in these parts would say, “That’s South Florida, baby.”

I saw my first open-air laundry mat that day, and I must say that may have been the single most depressing sight on that fateful drive south on US 1. Imagine sunny 95+ degree heat; a large metal semi-permanent barn structure with no sides, erected above rows and rows of coin-operated washing machines and dryers; an asphalt parking lot and laundry mat floor, as it were, riddled with potholes and blowing trash; a laundry mat worker posted in a booth behind heavy iron grating, obviously making change for customers and perhaps selling lottery tickets and cane liquor; and scores of people clothed in synthetics, nylons, and permanent press knits sitting next to their laundry baskets and carts, evidently waiting on something more than just their laundry to be done. On that drive south, we looked and looked for the beautiful people, only to discover that by beautiful one must mean nearly naked and generally thonged, dark sunglasses perched on faces flawless from so much Botox, bulging chests by way of silicone and steroids atop wrinkled and aged leathery bodies. We looked for starlets and bohemians strolling along the boulevard — and came up short.

It was an exhausting drive, like far too many leisurely activities unfortunately seem to be, and soon we had developed real pangs of hunger for something to eat. Who knew so many gas stations and convenience stores sold hotdogs and slices of pizza along the great US 1? A cacophony of neon signs shaped like tripped-out sea creatures blinked specials from restaurants that surely had seen better days. Then at some point, Tahir declared he could no longer continue without something to nourish him, and we shortly thereafter pulled into a parking ramp near a sliver of public beach somewhere in Miami-Dade county. A brisk walk around the immediate area, and we knew we should have pulled over at that storefront six or seven blocks north. Back into the car, back out of the lot, and head north to our destination. We were not overly hopeful, but were determined to salvage something from the drive.

The unspectacular storefront would have never gotten our attention but for our forays into literature. For it was only because of our admiration for Jorge Luis Borges, that we had latched unto a modest storefront with “Buenos Aires” as part of the bakery’s name. It’s true. Had we never read Borges, we likely would have never noticed the modest storefront sign that included “Buenos Aires,” and we likely would have caved in and ordered burgers at that over-priced sports bar near the parking ramp.

People try out restaurants, bakeries, and cafes for all kinds of reasons, usually involving some appeal to their senses or pocketbooks, or upon reading a favorable review, or based on recommendations from friends. And sometimes we make emergency restaurant choices based entirely on the least damage possible principle: you are very hungry and very far from familiar surroundings and the sports bar serving burgers should be relatively harmless even though the carpeting on the walls gives you pause.

I say don’t rule out a fragile connection with writers whose work you love as another way to select dining establishments. Really. For as it turned out, the modest storefront with the name of that great city we knew only from a few stories and essays by Borges, yes, that one — at the time located next door to a liquor store and across the street from a chain drug store — was exactly what we needed. It also turned out to be exactly what we desired that Sunday afternoon — to experience with pleasure the finest South Florida has to offer: exquisite empanadas, croissants, and pastries, and chilled mango nectar from the Confiteria Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe.

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