BONDURANT — Matt and Jennifer Accurso recently reopened the Branding Iron Café with the goal of giving back to a community that has helped them through some tough times.
The Branding Iron on Highway 191 next to the Bondurant Post Office offers a warm atmosphere, friendly service and a simple made-from-scratch menu centered around coffee and the empanada.
The couple traveled to several countries together, where they learned that nearly every culture has a version of the humble, convenient and tasty hand pie.
Pasty, paddy, empanada or turnover; no matter what you call them, hand pies are blue-collar food. They're a flaky pie crust filled with a range of food items from steak and eggs to apple pie filling, then doubled over, crimp-sealed and deep fried.
Hand pies work for people on the go because they travel well, aren't super messy and they fill the need for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Jennifer used to work in sales and spent a lot of time traveling in her car. Empanadas became her favorite meal because she could grab three in the morning with a cup of coffee and be good to go all day, she said.
"We wanted to bring life back to this building and we want it to be a place for the community to enjoy," she said. "It's a happy warm place for people to come to and sit down and relax."
"We aren't here to get rich," added Matt. "We know this is a special place to live. We want to be part of this community and teach Gannett (their 4-year-old son) how to work doing something that's not on a computer."
Matt and Jennifer are in their 40s but came to be known by locals as "the kids" when they moved into a mountain subdivision called Hoback Ranches near Bondurant in 2016.
On Sept. 18, 2018, the Roosevelt Fire ripped through Hoback Ranches leaving a trail of destruction. More than 1,000 firefighters were called in to battle the blaze that raged for nearly three weeks.
When it was over, 55 homes were gone. The Accursos lost everything. Nothing was discernable among the ash. The fire burned so hot it melted their wood stove and their cast iron bathtub.
Jennifer said that now, a full five years later, the aspen trees have started to come back, but there are bare spots on their property where the soil was sterilized from the heat.
With no home and a new baby, the community of Bondurant rallied around the couple, providing them with lodging, clothes and many other necessities.
"I could go on and on about how awesome the people in this community are. After all we've been through here, we couldn't leave." Jennifer said. "We lived in our house for just over a year before it burned, and by the time we made it through COVID, we were displaced for longer than we lived there."
Prior to the fire, they were in negotiations to buy the Branding Iron, but when COVID-19 arrived the previous owners shut the café down and moved out of state.
During those difficult times the Accursos built a new house on their property and made an agreement that if the café was still available after they finished the home, they would find a way to buy it.
That agreement was realized earlier this year.
Built in 1990, the Branding Iron still has good bones, but after sitting vacant for at least three years, it needed work. Pipes had burst, and electrical upgrades and lots of general maintenance was needed.
The newly remodeled café celebrates the University of Wyoming’s brown and gold on its signs and has a bright yellow front door, yellow seat cushions and Cowboy theme throughout. Matt is a UW alumnus and former petroleum engineer.
The cafe seats 22 inside and has a new clear-coated wood slab bar. A shady front porch holds eight more seats and offers a walk-up window to the kitchen.
How To Make An Empanada
Matt never made an empanada before this summer.
He figured if he could nail the dough recipe the rest would fall into place. He said the flour must be thoroughly incorporated with the fat, whether it's butter, lard or shortening. If the ingredients aren't incorporated the empanada falls apart in the deep fryer.
He's accepting of the stereotype that engineers are eggheads, making each dough ball weigh precisely 75 grams before putting them into the refrigerator to chill. This step, he said, is also critical in keeping empanadas from exploding when they land in the deep fryer.
While the dough balls chill, he prepares the fillings.
Their most popular empanadas contain pork or beef brisket. He makes about six different kinds, including smoked brisket, eggs and gouda; mushrooms, confit tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan; apple pie; or the Elvis, which contains bacon, caramelized bananas and peanut butter.
When the dough balls are chilled, he mashes them flat with a tortilla press, spoons in the filling, folds them over and crimps the edges with another press. From there they can either be fried or frozen and held until the next day.
The Branding Iron is open 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday through Monday. They plan to expand slowly and may soon offer dinner one night each week. The Accursos offer a variety of coffee-based beverages, including espresso, macchiato, cappuccino and café au lait, and several iced coffee choices.
For kids they offer milkshakes like the Spotted Cow, which contains Oreo cookies and vanilla ice cream; and the O.G., which is made with vanilla ice cream and milk.