I have utmost respect for the readers of Dessert Comes First. A lot of them come here for suggestions on where to eat and in turn, I receive a lot of emails and texts on what they’d like to see featured on the site. In the span of a week, I received numerous emails to feature a restaurant called Mom & Tina’s Bakery Café along Libis: “… come and visit this place…we absolutely love eating here because of the food, ambience and the service, and oh, did I mention the food?” goes one email, while another one a few days later reads: “I think Mom and Tina’s is really homey and laid back, para ka lang kumakain sa bahay ng Tita”. I trust the veracity of these claims and I can assume that the email senders aren’t in any way connected to one another so off to Libis I go.
I’m familiar with Mom and Tina’s Bakery Café since I’ve driven by it a few times in the past few months. Its country American motif is difficult to miss even from the outside and it looks like a place I’d want to settle in for a few hours. I remember they started out as a stall beside Panciteria San Jacinto which is in the same compound. That stall sold baked goods (courtesy of Tina) and early American crafts (courtesy of Mom, aka Belen Torres), thus Mom & Tina’s. “I’ve always liked to bake,” Tina Santos (née Torres) tells me. “Mom used to bake every afternoon and she was the one who taught me [how to bake]. She started me on a cake mix and we soon progressed to other things. I started selling desserts from the house and Mom would do her crafts.”
The stall was home for 10 years until just last March when the stall-slash-little shop moved to its roomier digs next door; thus Mom and Tina’s Bakery Café was born. It’s stayed true to its early American interiors (“We got all the décor from Mom’s house,” Tina chuckles) accented with specially made wooden counters, display cases, and flooring. I’m drawn to the little cabinet with glass sides lettered with “Mom & Tina’s Freshly Baked Pies” on the front; and I especially like the relaxed blue couches. Indeed, relaxed is the ultimate feel of this café. In spite of the lunch rush, the overall volume of the room is almost a pleasant hum. “Acoustics,” Tina says pointing to the ceiling.
Blackboards hung on the walls announce the café’s specials — Caesar salad (P160/P85), Paella (P140), Lasagna (P100), Roasts (pork, turkey, beef; P155-P245) ”“ but that’s not all. A wide menu offers everything else from Shepherd’s Pie (P105) and Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich (P195), to Rib-eye Steak (P265). Definitely home-cooked food served in bountiful portions priced most reasonably. “We serve only what we like to eat,” Tina proclaims.
My pleas to Tina not to serve me too much fall on deaf ears. The amount of food that arrives at my table and — just for me! ”“ is staggering. The Caesar Salad has enough dressing (homemade) to satisfy me with plenty of large croutons for crunch. I squeal in glee at the Mango Kani Salad (P160/P85), a Japanese-Filipino collaboration. Strips of kani (processed crab sticks) and mango slivers alternate on a bed of greens with generous squirts of Japanese mayonnaise. Shredded nori wrappers garnish this salad that’s a meal in itself.
I’d like to finish both salads but I have other dishes waiting to be tried. The Rib-eye Steak (P265) lacks its characteristic amount of fat but I can’t complain especially since the meat is unfailingly tender with that particular “liquid seasoning” taste that Filipinos love. I’m amazed and delighted when Tina tells me that her meats come from a local purveyor. The Chicken & Spinach Lasagna (P105) comes in a large ramekin perfect for individual servings. While the chicken is not immediately detectable, I admire the way the spinach has been chopped so finely making it appear like the noodles are flecked instead of layered with it. Possessing enough sauce and that orange oil that all good lasagnas should have, it’s at once pleasing and comforting. Note the cute spiral rolls that come with it.
I’m a big sucker for roasts so it’s no surprise that my favorite dish is the roast turkey (P245). I normally consider turkey a boring meat ”“ dry and insipid ”“ but at Mom & Tina’s it’s roasted in such a way that it remains moist, even the white meat. I appreciate that I’m given slices of the stuffing, my absolute favorite part that I eat together with heaping spoonfuls of the cranberry sauce. The meat’s flavor suggests nutmeg and a medley of other spices. I hear a calming melody. Served with mashed potatoes, corn, and rice, this is a true bang-for-buck meal.
As I eat, I enjoy my conversation with Tina, who keeps me company. She’s a fair-skinned soft-spoken woman with a most attractive sprinkling of freckles across her nose. While I desperately try not to look like someone eagerly stuffing her face, I ask her what it’s like having her own place. “Oh, it was a nightmare at first,” she laughs at the recollection. “So many things that needed to be done. But now that things have settled down, it’s so fulfilling.” The restaurant is truly a family affair not just in name. Aside from Tina who manages the cooking and baking done in the central commissary, other family members and a nephew, Miguel (Esguerra) who is the General Manager, is there to ensure that everything is working as it should.
When my plates are removed and I’m getting ready for dessert, Tina tells me that she’d like to open one more branch of Mom & Tina’s. “Perhaps in a mall or someplace with a lot of foot traffic.” Then she muses on whether she’ll still accept orders this Christmas. “Having your own restaurant is like working non-stop. There are a million and one details.” Catching me looking longingly at the desserts, she smiles and says, “We focus on American desserts like pies and stuff. What would you like?”
Oh, just about everything, I want to say. And I actually come close to that. We start talking about sugar free desserts so Tina has me try her Mini American Apple Pie (P80) that boasts a gorgeous lattice crust and the Mini Mango Cream Pie. While both are sugar free it’s difficult for even me to tell that the desserts are devoid of sugar. The Mango Cream Pie especially has an utterly luscious cream base punctuated with bursts of mango.
But now I want to try real desserts with sugar so I ask for the shortbread (P10), my absolute favorite cookie in the world. Glittering with sugar that provides crunch, it’s buttery and tastes a lot like Walkers Shortbread, those in the trademark red plaid cans. I try the other cookies (P8-P18) which don’t appeal to me as much; the shortbread’s my fave.
Among the bar cookies (P9-P20), I like the Mango Square (P11) the best. Mango preserves (or is it dried mango?) is layered atop a short crust covered with a light streusel that creates a sort of mosaic atop.
Seeing me spy the cupcakes (P11-P24), Tina tells me, “We’ve always had those, even before the trend. Those are the old recipes pa.” The cupcakes are divided in two, those with a golden (yellow) crumb and those that are brown (chocolate). Unlike the rainbow variety prevalent these days, there are only two kinds of icings used here, a marshmallow-like white icing and a divine fudge frosting that sticks to the teeth. The yellow cupcakes (carrot, chocolate swirl banana, mandarin orange butter, rum butter, butter, banana) have a fluffy crumb and are light in hand. So light are they that I can’t tell when my teeth sink past the celestial white icing and latch onto the cake itself. Before I know it, I’ve tasted my way through almost half a dozen cupcakes. The brown cupcakes are deep cocoa through and through and are heavier than their lighter counterparts. Tina tells me that the Chocolate Fudge is their bestseller.
I had my doubts about the cheesecakes (P90-P100) at Mom & Tina’s. It’s an expensive dessert to produce considering the price points of the other sweets. Thankfully, I am proven wrong. With a texture halfway between that of a baked and a no-bake cheesecake, it has enough density to quell a cheesecake craving, and I don’t feel like I’m eating air either.
Icebox cakes — think: ice cream cake — are very popular at this café. They however, remind me of trifles ”“ a mishmash of cake and caramel and chocolate and graham crackers and other assorteds. I have a spoonful of the Choco Turtle Ice Cream Cake (P395 ”“ 1.5 liter/P795 ”“ 3 liter) and put it aside. There’s too much going on and no specific flavor that stands out. Not for me, this one.
I end my dessert tasting (er, splurge?) with one of only two Filipino desserts. Unassuming in appearance the Sansrival (P40/P550) is crispy, a mean feat to achieve in Manila’s humidity; cloaked in perhaps the best buttercream I have tasted ”“ celestial and light, it almost dances on the tongue. While delicious, it’s layered too, too thickly ”“ almost an inch across the top and half that in the middle. If they reduced the amount, this sansrival will give even the high end bakers a run for their meringue wafers.
The Brazo de Mercedes (P30/P175) is a model of marvel, cushy in its meringue with oozing, gleaming yellow ends of yema, it’s something I’m coming back for next time. Ditto the carrot cake (P650) and the Chocolate Fudge Cake (P22/P525). Mom and Tina’s Bakery Café is the place to go to when you want to relive a time when life (and desserts) were simpler. Kick back on the couch, order yourself a roast dish, and afterwards, savor it with a dessert and some of their good strong coffee. Life can’t get any better. Or down home good.
Mom and Tina’s Bakery Café
106 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave.
Bgy. Ugong, Pasig City
Special thanks to Tina Santos, Miguel Esguerra, Emilio Esguerra, and to loyal Dessert Comes First readers Zee and Michelle ”“ you know who you are.