When my boyfriend and I traveled to Peru earlier this month, we flew in and out on a fast, economical little airline that puddle-jumps from Florida to various places in Central and South America. The catch? Sometimes you were stuck in Panama.
For, like, a day.
Always one to be adventurous (let’s turn these travel layover lemons into lemonade, shall we?!), I realized our eight-hour layover was on a Sunday, and so the long journey back to Washington therefore became, in my mind, just another trek to find a good brunch.
I had connected with Ernesto Mendez, a native Panamanian who reached out to me and Cori Sue a few months prior to my trip. He runs Panama’s biggest brunch blog, aptly named El Brunch Blog, and emailed in the we-brunch-bloggers-should-stick-together vein.
I had never met Ernesto in person, and I had never been to Panama, and so I was going a tad out of my comfort zone by explaining to him that I would be there for a few hours on a Sunday, and sure, my boyfriend and I will meet him for brunch.
When we landed Sunday morning in Panama City, my boyfriend made a beeline for the official taxi stand while I stood in the hot sun pitting various unofficial taxi drivers against one another to see who would give us the best price into town.
Before Jason had even gotten to the front of the line, I had successfully negotiated a quick, under-twenty-dollars taxi ride with a man who spoke no English except for the occasional pointing at buildings while exclaiming, rather excitedly while looking back at us, “DONALD TRUMP!!”
We were dropped off at The Bristol Hotel, which was at the top of Ernesto’s big list of brunches we could try during our visit. The hotel is small, but obviously luxurious, with marble floors and beautiful chandeliers in its lobby. Two well-dressed doormen greeted us as we arrived.
We shuffled down the hallway to Salsipuedes, a bit icky from all our recent traveling and tired from waking up at three in the morning for our flight. I was slightly embarrassed to be in such a gorgeous hotel in, well, airplane clothes and hair. But we made do.
Salsipuedes is the restaurant inside the Bristol Hotel, and in the very back of the space there is what seemed to be a banquet room. In the center of this room was the most gorgeous buffet, with servers standing at attention in each corner.
This is where we found Ernesto, already snapping photos of the food.
My international brunch blogging cohort has only had his site for a year or so, but already he’s grown it to be one of the biggest and best in the region. It’s an outlet for him, just as it is for me: His job in the Panama government was extremely stressful and busy. Writing about food certainly helps with that sort of thing.
We ordered mimosas (bottomless, of course), and made a big circle around the buffet together. We were nearly the only table in the entire restaurant, and so we had plenty of space and time to peruse and make some hard decisions.
There was a taco bar, with beef, chicken, and vegetarian options. The meat was served in huge terracotta pots. I filled mine to the brim with all the fixings I could imagine to find.
There were carving stations, omelet stations, and fish stations. There were ceviches and salads, fresh fruit, and a yogurt bar. And of course, there were beautiful cakes and pastries, including, the creme de la creme of the region, dulce de leche.
Everything was beautifully displayed, down to the yogurts, which had pretty little flowers perched on the top of each. Even the omelet bar looked like a work of art. I didn’t want to touch it.
We got to know Ernesto quickly that morning, and we regaled him with stories of our recent travels around Machu Picchu, Cusco, and Lima. He told us the history of Panama better, probably, than a history book could have; and explained the nuances of the culture and cuisine.
We ate and ate, and talked for a good while, with only one or two other tables filling up next to us (such a shame for such a lovely restaurant). Once we were completely stuffed, we still had a few hours to kill before our next flight, and so Ernesto offered to show us around the city a bit.
He ended up giving us the grand tour.
We drove to the canal, where huge tanker ships were waiting patiently to cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. We wandered around Casco Viejo, the cobblestoned historic district and each had a raspados (shaved ice). We even saw a little Frank Gehry and his BioMuseo (he married a Panamanian, who knew?).
Then we bopped back to airport and caught our last airborne leg home. Talk about a successful trip to brunch, thanks to Ernesto!
The Bitches say: A+
Avenida Aquilino de la Guardia
Panama City, Panama