Domingo, Jonatan and David Torres show off a pan of home made empanadas, made by hand in the kitchen of The Chilean, a new Sanford restaurant. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD – Jonatan Torres expertly takes a circle of homemade dough and adds a large dollop of filling – in this particular case, a vegetarian blend of black beans, corn, cilantro, lime and salsa.

He’s making empanadas, a traditional Latin American hand pie, which can be stuffed with a number of different fillings.

The finished empanadas are then deep-fried – a hot, tasty treat made with fresh ingredients and a super secret blend of spices.

Torres is the owner and general manager of The Chilean, a new restaurant in Sanford that opened in the Center for Shopping on Feb. 11.

It is a family business, with emphasis on homemade.  On Wednesday, his father Domingo and brother, David, were both working with Jonatan in the kitchen, getting ready for the 11 a.m. opening. His mother Dawn helps out on weekends.

Jonatan Torres makes empanadas in the kitchen of his new Sanford restaurant, The Chilean. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

Besides empanadas, which are available with fillings including steak, ground beef, sweet chicken, chicken chili, vegetarian or cheese, (or mac and cheese and pizza empanadas served on Friday and Saturday) there are an array of traditional Chilean sandwiches, homemade soups and more.

There’s chorrillana – described as cooked eggs served over steak, chorizo, onions and French fries.

In the sandwich line, there is chacarero – grilled steak, mayonnaise, tomatoes and green beans on a fresh bun – fresh made, in house, that morning. Substitute the green beans for avocado, and you have a churrasco. Barros luco – steak and cheese- is another sandwich, or you can have chemilico – steak, egg and caramelized onions on a fresh bun.

A vegetarian empanada, under construction at The Chilean, a new restaurant in Sanford. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

There are hot dogs – like the Completo, piled high with a hot dog, avocado, tomatoes and mayo.

There are the soups – a traditional part of the Chilean culture, said Jonatan, including chicken, white bean with chorizo, hamburger, or some other homemade variety.

And we haven’t even talked about Brazo De Reina – a Swiss roll-type cake with dulce de leche and walnuts, churros, or ice cream with dulce de leche.

Jonatan, 27, worked in Florida for a couple of years before moving back to Maine. He worked in the restaurant business in Biddeford and in Portland – in the latter case, serving as assistant manager of a restaurant and as part of the wait staff at the same time.

“Then I decided I wanted to do something on my own,” he said.

The family moved to Maine from Chile when Jonatan and his brother were  young –  his mother Dawn is a Mainer.

Homemade buns, for sandwiches, not long out of the oven at The Chilean, a new restaurant in Sanford. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

The empanadas, said Domingo, are made using the family recipe from Chile.

“They grew up eating this,”  said Domingo of his sons.

In the kitchen on a Wednesday morning, Domingo has already made the rolls for today’s sandwiches, and the loaves of bread that are also for sale. David is considered the sandwich expert, and Jonatan is at a table, making empanadas. It is a precise undertaking, even though there’s not a measuring spoon in sight. He adds the filling, folds the dough, crimps it, trims it, and pierces the crust to provide air, much as one would when making an oven pie.
Then, once ordered, they’re ready for the deep fryer.

The Chilean, open Tuesday through Sunday, is among a half-a-dozen or more new eating establishments that have opened in Sanford in the past year or two – and broadens the city’s international flavor. Besides the city’s traditional Chinese eateries, there is a Vietnamese restaurant, called Pho Saigon; Thai Sawasdee, (temporarily closed due to a fire); Richies Jerk and BBQ , which serves Jamaican food;  Kai Asian Fusion, which serves sushi, among other items and El Mexicano. Other recent additions include Backstreet Sanford and the Sandwich Shack, serving American fare,  and a new breakfast place that opened earlier this week, called the Country Egg.

Jonatan said the business is going well. They  started in February, he said, slowing adding services as the family team worked together. After the first week or so, they added ordering by phone. Recently, they’re added online ordering as well.

Come warmer weather, and the soups will come off the menu for the summer and something new – he’s not saying what just yet – will take its place, but you can count on the fact whatever is chosen will have its roots in Chile.

The prices are modest – there is no item on the menu more than $12.99 and most are significantly less. A bowl of homemade soup,  or one empanada, for example, is $3.99.

And then of course, there’s the flavor.

“Something tasty doesn’t have to be expensive,” said Jonatan. “Here, it’s very tasty and affordable.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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