Kapitolyo's Latest Cafe Proves That Moms Know Best
Standing at a stock over-six feet and a beard hugging his face, restaurateur RJ Galang is quite the imposing figure. I imagine that a dissatisfied guest would think twice about sharing their ten cents if, for some reason, their experience at the newly opened Bakere Cafe was less than satisfactory.
But RJ is open to harsh truths, which he usually gets from his sister. "She said, 'It doesn't taste like mom's'," he shares, feigning mock bewilderment. "So far that's the only criticism I have gotten and it's actually fine. I'm really not trying to replicate my mom's dishes."
"Mom" is Eleanor Galang whose name represents the "e" in the cafe. Mrs. Galang started her home-based business in 1975, a couple of years before RJ was born.
"She started with simple stuff—fried peanuts. Ganun lang," he snickers, recounting his mom's early years as an entrepreneur. "Then she started experimenting with more complex dishes. Eventually, she started baking and would serve them at parties or give them as gifts." Orders from friends and neighbors poured in soon enough.
"She called her company Sweet Expressions when we were still in New Manila," RJ shares. "'80s na '80s, di ba?" When they moved to Wack-Wack, she renamed it Bakeshop 833.
Despite the playful ribbing, Galang recognized the potential of his mom's home operation. After he left his advertising job and dabbled in marketing consultancy, he trained his focus on food. While he had his own gig (blogging, consulting, and various food-related start-ups), he helped his mom rebrand her bakery. Galang gave it a new clever moniker and a sleeker look; he worked on the costing and made sure the business was making money.
"Her costing was actually on point naman," RJ admits. Still, Mrs. Galang can now rest assured that the love and labor her staff puts into the ensaymadas, cheese cupcakes, and food for the gods, among many more baked goodies, are properly compensated.
As much as this new cafe is a tribute to Mrs. Galang's dishes, it's still very much RJ. The design is deliberately modern, masculine except for a few personal touches that gives it a nice warmth. Amid the shelved books is a painting done by a good family friend and hanging by the coffee counter is his mom's old frame which he converted into a mirror.
"Everything in here is deliberate," RJ says. "Even by just looking at an item, you'll know there's a story behind it."
As intimidating as RJ might look, he actually welcomes conversation from his guests. For instance, he would be happy to tell you that all the baked goods in the chiller are from Bakere, the bakeshop. That the BXU sandwich—a ciabatta stuffed with slices of Butuan-style lechon belly and coleslaw with the tang of bahalina (a coconut sap vinegar from Mindanao)—is his rather successful effort to promote the cuisine of his mom's home province. RJ isn't even shy about sharing the magic formula behind his "cheese mix" either, the reason his ham and cheese sandwich is a gooey, heavenly mess. We'd love to eat and tell, but you can ask him yourself.
To better understand RJ's food philosophy, try any of the pastas. The Carbonara, for instance, is unapologetically simple, allowing the triumvirate of bacon, egg, and cheese to speak volumes. The sauce is thickened with just enough cream so that it stays rich until the last bite.
Caesar Salad, Carbonara, Toasted Ensaymada
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Determined to serve up the perfect lasagna, RJ knew he needed to invest in the right cooking vessel. "We took a sheet of Barilla brand lasagna to the supplier of our baking trays and asked them to follow its dimensions," he confesses. A hundred trays is the minimum order, so now they have a hundred trays in storage, which is perfectly fine because the way RJ sees it is that every lasagna that comes out of his kitchen should be generously portioned, perfectly burned and crusty on the sides. The meat sauce seems cheesy enough, so all it really calls for is the dollop of sour cream on top. Hearty, nostalgic, with that perfect balance of richness and tang, it's what every lasagna aspires to be.
The coffee here is probably the best in the area. The beans are from no less than Toby's Estate, but RJ got creative with them as well. Aside from the usual espresso preparations, he serves a rather mean bicerin. Originally from Turin, Italy, it is espresso layered with thick chocolate and whole milk. Like mocha, you might say, but more luxurious. Perfect, actually, with Bakere's toasted ensaymada stuffed with melted Risa chocolate. On balmy days, the espresso tonic is a fizzy and more interesting alternative to an iced americano.
Bakere Cafe is the product of RJ's passion for food, but don't think it's an impulsive kind of love. It is a passion that was nurtured in a home filled with happy afternoons feasting on freshly baked merienda; the kind that puts a premium on family and tradition yet commits to bringing it into the next generation; it's deliberate and discerning and unwavering. Like RJ, the big, sturdy family man, Bakere Cafe has the bones of an enduring contender, and it really does look like it's here for the long haul.
Bakere Cafe is at 3 Brixton Street, Kapitolyo, Pasig City.