Saturday, September 14, 2013

World Bakery & Cafeteria, Naples, Florida

The World Bakery & Cafeteria in Naples, Florida is located in a small strip mall on Pine Ridge Road, just west of the corner at CR 951.  The "cafeteria" moniker is definitely appropriate.  This eatery isn't glamorous.  The service takes some getting used to.  The food presentation isn't pretty.    But if you can look - or rather taste - past all of that, the World Bakery & Cafeteria offers a good "bang for your buck" Cuban-style lunch that is worth trying.  The traditional Cuban fare will appeal to any city transplant longing for a taste of their own little Havana.

When you first walk into World Bakery, you can't help but notice the bakery and deli style food cases.  This is no sit down eatery with menus.  In this place, customers walk right up to the food cases to order what they want.  Now, don't be surprised if you have to wait a bit.  Sometimes, it takes a few minutes for someone to get around to you, not necessarily because its busy in there but just because the people behind the counter work at their own pace.  But fortunately you won't have to wait too long.  Savory and sweet items are all available for order although you may have to resort to pointing and broken Spanish to place your order.  Not everyone who works here speaks fluent English.  But thankfully my Filipino makes me proficient enough in conversational Spanish to get by.  And, if you don't know Spanish, don't worry.  The servers there will eventually figure out exactly what you want or a regular might jump in and help you out.  Once your order is filled, they pack it all up in a plastic grocery bag and hand it to you with a slip of paper.  My first day there I had no idea what to do with that slip of paper.  All I knew is that I wanted to pay for my meal.  I literally waited to observe and mimic someone who appeared to be a regular.  Thanks to him, I now know that you are supposed to bring your little slip to a register at the far end of the pastry counter, although you may need to let them know you're ready to check out.  And there is a digital read out on the register just in case you are rusty with your Spanish numbers.

Ordering at World Bakery may not be the easiest experience (at least initially) but the eating goes much better.  Even though there are a limited number of tables for in-restaurant dining, I suspect most of World Bakery's patrons take their orders to go.  I opted to do the same since my home is less than a mile down the road.  For lunch today, I ordered a roasted leg of chicken and ox tails, along with generous sides of yellow rice and sweet fried plantains, all to go.  Because World Bakery has a large selection of sweets, I also ordered several of those to go:  two types of flan, a slice of vanilla cake with blue frosting (specifically requested by my Anna), a puff pastry ("pastel") filled with guava paste and a Cuban cake soaked in simple syrup.

What I loved:  The ox tails were really great.  Although still a little gelatinous and fatty in places, the ox tail was braised all the way and so fork tender.  The braising liquid flavored with Spanish olives gave a great savory taste to the meat.  I appreciated that the server spooned some of that flavorful braising liquid over my yellow rice and took care to include a few Spanish olives to my box.  The plantains were nicely fried and well caramelized.  Sweet but still a bit firm, just the way I like them.  And because the serving of rice is so ample, my lunch was also very filing.

Of all the desserts, the flans were the winners.  If you love egg custards, World Bakery can oblige.  They have several types of flan although its not readily apparent how they are all different.  Thankfully being Filipino means I know a little something about flan.  I ordered two types.  The first was firm, cut into a slice that could be hand held.  Lightly sweet and thick and creamy in texture, it's clear that this flan is made with a lot of egg yolk.  The other, tocinillo flan, has thin layers of caramel on the top and the bottom and is thus a little sweeter than its cousin.  This flan though is lighter in texture and is very reminiscent of the Filipino flan I grew up with.  Next time I'll bring my parents and order the tocinillo.  I'm sure my dad will thank me for it.

What I didn't love:  Unfortunately, not all of those desserts hit the spot.  I did not love the simple syrup infused cake.  It looked really good in the case, but it just didn't taste so good in my mouth.  The syrup was nice and light, subtlety sweet, but the cake otherwise had no flavor.  In fact, but for all the moisture from the syrup, I would have thought the cake was dry.  Maybe it's supposed to be that way.  I have no idea.  I just know it's not to my liking.

As an Asian, I'm pretty discerning when it comes to rice.  The yellow rice at World Bakery is nicely seasoned and contains bits of vegetable making the rice a nice stand-alone dish if you so desire.  But this rice is little dry to the taste.  Maybe because I didn't pick up my lunch order until 1 p.m. and the tray may have been in the case for an hour.  Maybe because I just prefer a very sticky rice.  It's not bad.  Just not my favorite.

Ox tails with yellow rice and sweet plantains
How much I spent:  ($)  For lunch for me and my two kids, I spent $15.   The sides are very generous so I ordered two meals for the three of us to share.   Since we ordered our meals to go, I didn't purchase any drinks.  I spent $6 for all of the sweets, although normally I would have not bought so many.  In fact, I probably would not have bought any since we were only purchasing lunch.  I bought a selection of five only for the purpose of this review.  Of course, next time I will have to take home some tocinillo.

My overall rating:  3 spoons.  World Bakery & Cafeteria serves up a good lunch for a good price, especially if you are looking to pick up something relatively quick to go.  For those living nearby, this eatery could come in handy as a weekend or dinner solution when you're not up for cooking.  Or when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.

World Bakery & Cafeteria on Urbanspoon

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