Continental Affair

I through all of my high school geography classes and totally missed out on the whole Pangea theory. In fact, until I saw the word Pangea as the answer to a Jeopardy question, I would have told you that it was a new drug for acid reflux disease. Pangea, according to my dictionary, is the name for a hypothetical supercontinent that included all the landmasses of the Earth before continental drift broke it up during the Triassic Period.

It’s also the name of a really terrific new restaurant, Pangea Café & Market (900 West 39th Street), located in a freshly built shopping strip just west of Southwest Trafficway. Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Martin and Wendy Rudderforth opened the fast-casual bistro on March 1.

They chose the name because their menu is an array of international dishes: Spanish empanadas, Thom Yum Gai soup (fantastic, by the way) from Thailand, Italian-style panini, German potato salad, and just about everything in between.

On my first visit, I griped (as usual) about having to order at a counter, but Martin — who manages the 62-seat dining room and takes orders — offered an illuminating explanation: “This way I personally get to meet every one of our customers,” he said.

Wendy and a small crew do the cooking, preparing fresh salads and hot plates. On that first visit, my friend Bob and I shared shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, a luscious beef-and-Guinness “pie” made with the flakiest puff pastry, and, as a finale, the same kind of freshly grilled banana-and-Nutella crépes sold by street vendors in Paris.

Martin, a native of Buenos Aires, met Wendy when they were both working at the Argentine-style Piropos restaurant in Parkville. They wanted to be on 39th Street, though their location is several blocks east of “Restaurant Row.” Still, their venue has plenty of sunny windows that look out on the green copper dome of the old Loretto Academy to the west and the spires of several Westport churches on the east side.

Wendy Rudderforth’s food can be a divine experience, too, particularly her invigorating soups and decadent desserts (a flourless chocolate torte, a spumoni semi-freddo). The “market” part of the operation isn’t very elaborate. There are imported chocolates and cookies on one shelf and a refrigerated case stocked with cheeses and salami.

“But we have plans to expand that part of the business,” Martin said. “But right now, we just want to let people know that we’re here.”

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