Jezabel’s Cafe, formerly Gavin’s Cafe, is a beautiful little cafe just over the South Street bridge, right next to Fitler’s Square and the dog park.
I passed by this adorable yellow cafe many times on my way home from long runs, every time swearing to myself that the next time I would bring money so I could stop in and check the place out. Needless to say, I kept forgetting.
Finally, I decided to get my act together and head down there on a sunny afternoon to speak to the chef and owner Jezabel Careaga and to sample some delicious Argentinian snacks. After a day of midterms, this was exactly what I needed.
I could immediately tell this is a place that is deeply cared about by the owner and cherished by the neighborhood. The sunny yellow interior is brightened by beautiful bouquets of flowers and features a large wooden counter that is both elegant and homey. A few small tables are lined up along the wall in front of the counter, and behind a glass panel are cake stands bearing stacks of fresh empanadas, generous slices of pastafrola, torta de ricota, quiche, and alfajores.
Chef and owner Jezabel Careaga, originally from Argentina, moved to Philly to pursue a dream of opening a cafe after completing her business degree in Argentina and working in Miami. She remembers growing up surrounded by food and cooking, spending many hours with her grandmother and helping her cook, especially helping with making the dough for empanadas. She smiled as she reminisced about the smells in her cafe that bring her back to her childhood, like the smell of freshly mixed raw empanada dough, or the aroma of buttery pastafrola crust.
As I spoke to Jezabel, the cafe filled with regulars who warmly greeted her like an old friend and children vying for alfajores, ice cream, and empanadas. Almost everything is made in house, and Chef Careaga strives to make the cafe as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.
The cafe has a varying menu of desserts and quiches with a few central items, such as empanadas, alfajores, and medialunas. The traditional empanadas are filled with a juicy ground beef filling containing spices, olives, and a sweet touch of plump raisins. Other empanadas frequently featured are the ham and cheese, spinach-filled, and cheese empanadas, and she told me that on special occasions she offers a corn and goat cheese one as well.
Alfajores are a traditional Argentinian cookie-sandwich filled with a thick layer of dulce de leche and coated with thin shavings of coconut. The cookies themselves are crumbly and not too sweet, and are made with a brand of cornstarch known as maizena. I almost got to try one, but a little girl in line in front of me snagged the last one!
Medialunas are like croissants, but less buttery and flaky and more bready. They are offered either plain or split and filled with ham and cheese (in which case they are known as mafaldas). They go great with a cup of cafe con leche for breakfast or snack.
I myself was treated to a thick slice of ricotta cake and another of the pastafrola of the day, which reminded me of a thick-crusted strawberry jam crostata. The torta de ricota was lightly perfumed with orange zest and had a delicate, vanilla crumb with a firm ricotta filling. I definitely left very satisfied!
More Penn students should know about this place! It’s not too far from campus and is perfect for when you want to step outside of the bubble and spend a little while enjoying a bit of sun and a taste of Argentina.
2536 Pine St.