Meet the unlikely Denver finalist for Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants in America

Have you ever met a sticky bun that changed your outlook?

Amiel Stanek, editor-at-large at Bon Appetit, did earlier this year when he visited Denver.

Labeled a “golfeado,” the bun was made with laminated croissant pastry dough, walnuts, anise and a surprise, perhaps outlook-changing ingredient (more on that later).

The whole thing cost around $4 at Reunion Bread Co. inside The Source marketplace.

There, baker Ismael De Sousa sells just four unassuming bread loaf varieties and slightly more head-turning Portuguese and Venezuelan pastries.

When Stanek visited Denver, De Sousa told The Denver Post earlier this week, the editor came back three times three days in a row to try his golfeados.

“Thanks for coming back!” de Sousa told Stanek, as he would to any customer. The baker was excited to see a repeat visitor, but he didn’t think much of it. After all, Stanek hadn’t said who he was.

Then, in June, Bon Appetit published a small but swelling ode to Reunion Bread and its Venezuelan version of a sticky bun, praising the flakiness and the butteriness, and that other hard-to-pin-down ingredient.

“(I)t was a shower of what I later found out was cotija cheese that secured this golfeado’s spot in my personal pastry pantheon,” Stanek wrote for the food magazine. “Mouthwateringly salty, tangy, and just the right amount of aged cheese … .”

Three months later, De Sousa’s baking has reappeared in the (online) pages of the national publication. This time, Reunion Bread is one of 50 nominees for the annual “Hot 10” list of America’s best new restaurants, along with two other Denver restaurants: Beckon and The Wolf’s Tailor.

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(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)

Ismael De Sousa, owner of Reunion Bread Co, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. De Sousa’s Denver bakery made Bon Appetit magazine’s list of the 50 best new restaurants in the country. Now Reunion is eligible for the top 10, out next week.

“Oh, man,” the 34-year-old De Sousa said was his reaction when he woke up Tuesday morning to an email with the news. “I always tell people, look, we just make like 10 different things, but they’re all amazing.”

Reunion was nominated by the magazine’s editors along with 49 other restaurants. Most of these potential “best new” American restaurants are outfitted with tables; they make meals and serve them. Not Reunion.

Blink and you’ll miss the space inside The Source where De Sousa balances a super-compact menu with the tight margins of counter-service-only business and a growing roster of wholesale restaurants and coffee shops.

Golfeados, pasteis de nata, churro croissants — these are a third of the store’s regular offerings. But they’re also three pastries you can’t find anywhere else in Denver.

A Portuguese native who moved to Venezuela when he was young, De Sousa first attended culinary school in England before learning to bake in Miami. He then arrived in Colorado to work his way across a number of local bakeries, from wholesale operations to mom-and-pop shops, all while planning Reunion.

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“I cannot be anyone else, so I need to make my Venezuelan things,” De Sousa says now, eight months into running the bakery. Like him, the golfeado is a “Portuguese immigrant pastry in Venezuela,” and a “very humble pastry in Venezuela,” he explains. “(At Reunion), we do it different.”

Different is one word. Another is decadent. Here’s another: dumbfounding.

“(I)t felt simultaneously like a left-field wildcard and something that belonged there the entire time,” Stanek wrote back in June of the sweet and savory pastry, “the perfect foil to that dense wall of sugar and butter.”

On Tuesday, Bon Appetit’s explanation for Reunion Bread’s place on its 50 best list was all of 25 characters long. “Two words: churro croissant,” it read. Perhaps because “one word: golfeado” would have left unsuspecting readers still, well, unsuspecting.