Atlanta Orders In: Atlantans fall hard for Belen de la Cruz’s empanadas, sweets

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

A few years ago, a friend suggested to Belen de la Cruz that she give cooking classes at her home in Alpharetta. De la Cruz — a Buenos Aires native who has spent a good chunk of her 48 years raising three children and moving around the world as the wife of a former Coca-Cola executive — thought her friend was loco.

But, her friend was on to something.

De la Cruz grew up around food — with a mother who made pasta and limoncello from scratch, and a father who exported fish from Argentina to Europe. She’s fun, has a flair for design and pastry decorating, and makes killer empanadas. Soon, De la Cruz was staging girls-night-out parties in her kitchen. The ladies drank wine, wore “naughty” aprons, and got their hands dirty rolling empanadas and stuffing them with ground beef, ham and cheese, and chicken.

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Today, De la Cruz is living a kind of Cinderella tale that feels like a perfect storm of good timing, smart branding, and endless spunk and ambition.

Encouraged by her two brothers (now her business partners), she opened Belen de la Cruz Empanadas & Pastries in Johns Creek on a snowy February day in 2020. She expected to sell about 600 empanadas that first month, and ended up tallying 4,000. Last month, sales hit 10,000. Now the empanada-preneur is readying a second location, expected to open at Marietta’s Piedmont Commons by the end of March.

Her baked-to-order empanadas, it seems, are a pandemic-proof food that travels well, reheats easily, and gives Atlanta an authentic taste of South America. Right now, she has 13 flavors on the menu: beef and chicken (with and without cheese), caprese, spinach, butternut squash, corn, onion, two-cheese, ham and cheese, bacon and mushroom. Five of those (onion, cheese, ham and cheese, caprese, chicken cheese) are gluten-free.

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“The fillings are the same recipes that I cooked all my life,” she said. Beef is by far the top seller. If you are Argentine and you don’t sell beef, she joked, “you have problems.”

Empanadas sell for $3.20 each ($3.50 for gluten-free), a price that De la Cruz knows can seem expensive to some. She emphasized that she uses premium ingredients. And, rather than letting her savory hand-held pies sit around in warmers, they are baked to order. Customers have a choice of picking them up hot; parbaked, so they can be reheated at home without overbrowning; or frozen. Detailed cooking instructions are on her website.

Her store feels a bit like a high-end empanada boutique. Bright white and gleaming, it mixes contemporary design with old-world pastry flair. Down the hall, past the counter, you can peek into the kitchen and see employees stuffing and pressing empanadas.

After bringing home a mixed dozen of the flaky beauties, I can see what the fuss is about. I’m still working my way through the box, but I especially liked the beef and the bacon, particularly when dipped in a bit of the chimichurri sauce — made with dried herbs and rather nutty tasting, a bit like a Mexican salsa macha.

Also, a box of the exceedingly pretty pastries would make a lovely and delicious gift. (To-go confections are neatly arranged on white-paper doilies, packed in boxes and tied with ribbon.)

The brownies are kind of miraculously crispy at the edge, yet gooey in the middle. Coconut-pecan bites reminded me of how much Latin Americans love sweets; at the same time, they evoked flavors that Southerners love at Christmastime. The piece de resistance, though, is the alfajor, a shortbread sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche, one of the great culinary contributions of Argentina.

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Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock


Menu: empanadas and pastries

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: a dozen empanadas, including beef, cheese beef, chicken cheese, ham and cheese, bacon, corn, onion, mushroom and butternut squash; two containers of chimichurri; and pastries, including a brownie, lemon bite, lemon cake, marquise bite, havannet bite and alfajor. Owner Belen de la Cruz threw in a small box of pastries, including the coconut-pecan bite, which appealed to this Southern boy’s sweet tooth.

Service options: order online, by phone or at the shop; dine-in available; no delivery

Outdoor dining: two benches on the sidewalk

Mask policy: mandatory for staff and patrons

Address, phone: 11730 Jones Bridge Road, Johns Creek; 470-359-2976

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays


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