EAT – The Crazy Empanada
By Griffin Nelson | Photo by John Antaki
In a nondescript building on Riverwatch Parkway, tucked into a corner under beautiful big trees, you’ll find The Crazy Empanada– home of the best empanadas outside of Puerto Rico. Made by hand every morning, the family-owned business churns out nearly 300 empanadas daily! Nuni Hernandez learned to make empanadas and other traditional dishes from her mom while growing up in Puerto Rico. In fact, everyone in the family seems to learn from her, including Hernandez’s nephew Julius Lajuan Hernandez Staples. They’ve built a wonderful staff of friends and family that works from sun up to sundown to prep and prepare the hundreds of empanadas plus tamales, Cuban sandwiches, burritos, desserts, drinks and more.
With the encouragement of a few of her mentors at Helms College, Hernandez started with $10 and the brave decision to make some empanadas for the Saturday market downtown one week in 2016 and see what happened. She sold out on the first day! Her family helped and supported her all the way but really stepped up in the summer of 2019, when she had to leave town for a few months. Staples, who was a sophomore in high school at the time, took the reins and, with the continued help of his grandmother, family and a few friends he hired to work for him, continued to build on the loyal following so that when Hernandez returned, they could work as a team to build the business into what it is today. “I’m so grateful that all of these people have been in my life,” says Hernandez.
Though their Puerto Rican background inspires much of the menu, The Crazy Empanada expanded the menu when it opened its doors this past summer.
“I want people to learn what Latin-fusion is all about,” says Hernandez, who loves coming up with creative takes on dishes from countries including Colombia, Peru and Argentina. Each week sees new specials, so there’s always something interesting to try. Despite opening during the chaos of COVID-19, The Crazy Empanada has flourished. Thanks to its loyal following from previous years at the market and lots of positive word-of-mouth, it usually sells out of empanadas daily. You can call in an order for takeout, order on the spot to eat on the patio or, for a nominal fee, you can have your meal delivered to your door.
ARTISAN – The Buttercup Bakeshop
I have a tried-and-true weakness for baked goods. I can’t resist a perfectly balanced delicacy of butter and sugar. I consider it a treat that I don’t get to eat every day, so I’m rather picky about it tasting amazing, and if it looks amazing that’s always a bonus, too. The Buttercup Bakeshop checks all the boxes: There’s a wide selection, everything tastes like bakery gold, and the gorgeous icing on the cake is the icing on the cake!
Janae Barcus learned to bake as a child growing up with her mom, Tracy James, who is now her business partner. With lots of family nearby, James always had a house full of people on the weekends and used the opportunity to bake. When Barcus was 8, she baked her first cake– a chocolate chip teddy bear cake as they both remember fondly– as the weekend project to share with all of her cousins.
What started as a hobby eventually grew into a career for Barcus as she started a cottage food business that she could take with her to support her family no matter where they lived. After settling in Augusta with her husband and young kids, and James moving to the area shortly after, they were finally ready to open a brick-and-mortar. Their skills and strengths balance perfectly, with Barcus as head decorator, James as operational manager and both of them skilled bakers.
The Buttercup Bakeshop (formerly She Bakes It) was born out of a desire to not just create desserts, but to also serve their customers by making each celebration sweeter. Being in the business of celebrations means they can create amazing custom designs for anything from a graduation to a baby shower to a wedding. It does take some planning– they usually need about three to six weeks for custom orders and three to six months for wedding orders– but everything from cakes to cookies can be customized, and Barcus’s design skills are top-notch, making every celebration not just taste great, but look amazing as well! Throughout the week, they have a rotation of seasonal sweets and specials with themes like back to school, golf, Christmas, etc. My favorite way to partake in the bakeshop’s sweets is to preorder a tasting box with a variety of items to share or one of their DIY cookie kits as a way to spend time with my family, providing an opportunity for a fun craft in addition to a sweet treat! To keep up to date on the most recent designs, to get a quote or place an order, go to www.thebuttercupbakeshop.com.
As long as it has enough notice, The Buttercup Bakeshop also has a “Secret Menu” of flavors for its gorgeous custom cookie orders! Ask about Lemon Lavender, Pumpkin Spice or Christmas Blend to add an extra special element to your extra-special celebration!
SIP – The Willcox
For 120 years, The Willcox has served its patrons with class and ease, whether they come from far away or from down the street. With 2020 being a much different year than anyone could have anticipated, it becomes more important than ever to take time to get away and spend time with the ones you love. An evening at The Willcox provides that feeling of a home away from home without having to go too far. Even if you’re not staying overnight at the hotel, the bar is the perfect place for an after-dinner drink or a night cap by the fire.
The cocktail menu is impressively long, with something for absolutely everyone. The balanced Parisian is its signature, with a bit of sweet and a bit of citrus. There’s an entire section of Champagne-based cocktails, including the light and refreshing French 75– perfect for brunch. If something dark and classic is more your preference, there’s always the traditional Manhattan. Of course, if you need space for an event like a party or wedding, it has several gorgeous spaces available for reservation, and the bar can even create a custom cocktail or mocktail for your event if you need one.
All of the staff, from the managers to the bartenders, take extra care to make each cocktail as good as it can be. Between the full bar and all of the little touches, like house-made cherries and simple syrups and a unique collection of bitters, they can create pretty much anything from a classic martini to their newest creation: a Smoked Rum Old Fashioned, which you can even make at home if you’re so inclined.
Smoked Rum Old Fashioned
2-3 slices of lime
3-5 dashes Bittercube Jamaican #1 Bitters
2 oz. Zaya Rum
Splash of club soda
Muddle the sugar cube, lime and bitters in the bottom of a rocks glass. Add rum and ice cubes. Stir until chilled. Top with a splash of club soda. Use a smoke infuser and cloche to add a smoky flavor and depth to the drink.
Appears in the October 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.