The missus is at work educating the not-so-little fifth-graders while I sip an insanely powerful cup of coffee from my Stars & Stripes staffer mug. This coffee is no joke. Even now, I can feel myself recovering from a 7-hour drive Sunday from the in-law’s house in San Bernardino.
Under normal circumstances, it’s a 6-hour drive. We diverted from the plan and stopped at the heavenly Porto’s Bakery in Glendale, near Pasadena. It started as a home business for the Porto’s in Manzanillo, Cuba and continued after they immigrated to the United States.
The upscale business in the heart of Glendale bears little resemblance to the humbler storefront locations, but the charm of a family run Latino business remains.
Porto’s is a 90-minute investment of one’s time. First-timers like ourselves are often completely unprepared for the hoards of people jockeying for position in front of a wraparound glass case filled to capacity with cakes and pastries, many of which are new to most Americans.
Oh, sure, the old favorites were there: danishes, turnovers, empanadas and birthday cakes. But the quality and variety far surpassed anything I had seen at the Mexican panaderias from my childhood. ¡Pobrecitos! The findings in an average Mexican panaderia seem so clunky, so downright primitive compared to this place. See what I mean?
Porto’s featured a bakery with a staggering array of breads, filled croissants, cookies, biscotti, danishes with exotic fillings, muffins, fruit-filled empanadas, turnovers and their signature guava and cheese strudels.
Not good enough for you? There is also a dessert counter filled to capacity with every variety of tortes, mousses, crème brulées and an express cake line with staggering array of wedding, birthday and special occasion cakes.
Cakes in the shape of a Bulls Jersey, cakes in the shape of a pineapple, complete with life-like frosting, cakes in the shape of an open cigar box. Mind you, I can’t remember the last time I had need of a pineapple-shaped cake, but it’s good to know where I can find one.
They also make smoothies, espresso drinks and a full array of sandwiches.
We arrive in the Porto’s parking lot, in the rear of their 20,000-square-foot empire on North Brand Avenue in Glendale. The usual L.A. parking lot sharks are out in full force, scanning the lanes from the leather chairs in their mini-SUV command centers. Because Porto’s is such an involved affair, as we were soon to discover, the parking lot had a low turnover rate for a Sunday afternoon.
After skulking about in our freshly washed Honda, we walked inside with an air of triumphant smugness.
Our victory was short lived.
As we walked down a narrow hallway and rounded the corner, a mob of fellow pastry hoarders greeted us.
I went into alert mode.
“Honey, grab a number,” I said, after quickly scanning the room. “Over there.”
An LED display told the ugly truth: “Now Serving 476.”
“What number did you get, honey?”
So much for arriving home by 8 p.m.
We killed time by people watching, looking at the lunch menu and grabbing free samples. We chatted with this trio of gay men behind us who were equally as agog as we were. We shared our menu, handed them samples and told them about the guava- and cheese-filled strudels.
The guava strudels have a cult status among the women in our church. The missus received no fewer than three calls before and after Operation: Porto’s to ensure we knew how to get there and that the baked goods had arrived. One lady was willing to eat them nearly a week after they were delivered.
So, imagine my shame and surprise when my wife talked to the woman behind the counter and asked for two dozen guava strudels.
The dear woman explained that they didn’t have any more, but if we didn’t mind waiting, we could make a fresh batch in about 15 minutes. Only in L.A.
We agreed, although I was still sheepish about brazenly ordering two dozen of the crack-cakes.
“Yes, I’ll need ten dozen of your guava strudels,” said the woman in line behind me, in complete seriousness, without a trace of shame.
More than $43 in guava strudels, pastries, desserts, smoothies, Cuban sandwiches later we headed back to our car. Total time invested, including the parking lot: 90 minutes.
The whole Central Valley is becoming addicted to Porto’s. The missus told her students about the bakery during a writing exercise, and her students sat there mesmerized, especially her Mexicanitos, as she told of a faraway land where one could walk into a a bakery and order a guava-filled anything.
Her students managed to swap their as-yet unearned good-behavior pizza party for pastries from Porto’s — regardless of how long it takes to drive down and get pastries.
Unbelievable. What do they put in those things?