In high school my sister and I had a friend from Venezuela. Her and Mary were great friends, and once Mary got to try these mysterious 'Arepa' things when she was visiting. I never even saw them, but the description of their simplicity and flavour has always left me wondering! Juicy cornbread stuffed sandwiches?
Fortunately Toronto has an answer to my silent wishes: 490 Queen West, Arepa cafe.
Naturally I went with my sister on this blog outing. If only my buddy Elena weren't off being a chef world traveller! Well, we live in an imperfect world. Imperfect except for this restaurant, maybe....
I was waiting for a while for my company, a result of my being chronically early. Being a growing connoisseur of coffee (admittedly most other people with barista experience could put me to shame), I wanted to try their espresso in its purest form: a shot (with a bit of sugar). Very pleasant! I'm used to the strength and nuttiness of Black Cat, and this was very different. I was foolish not to ask about the bean they use. There was a distinct cherry flavour, and it was nicely mellow.
I was aiming for a dairy-free choice, since I was attempting my first ever 'cleanse' during this trip. Egg, tomato, grilled onion; no cheese, but still hearty! Gluten-free too, which is a nice thing to know, since the buns are made of cornmeal. Little did I know what lurked at the bottom of this arepa...like many sandwiches and wraps, the arepa's juices wait until the last second to spring on you. Here they have a perfect waxy wrap to hold them in. Butter! So very laden with butter! I was happy that the tomatoes weren't overcooked and still had firmness, their freshness helped a lot with what turned out to be a very rich 'light' lunch.
Bolder was the meaty Pabellon! Here is some more Venezuelan flavour, shredded flank steak that really smacked of ground peppercorn. It was dry in a purposeful way, without losing tenderness. The plantains were like the tomatoes on my Perico: firm, crunchy, and adding freshness. With the beans, they actually turned this arepa into a sweeter sensation. It wasn't sugary, but had a nice natural sweetness. The first flavour to hit home really was the cheese, though.
Also famous are these treats: alfajores. They're like two very small and thin shortbread cookies with a happy dollop of dulce de leche in between. I had never tried that caramel-like substance. It's thick as molasses, but tastes like sugary cream. It really held the crumbling, light cookies together! They're fun to eat, but you have to be careful, especially if you're eating out with a sibling: you might just wind up with a face full of icing sugar! These things are coated in half a centimetre of the stuff. One powerful exhale....yikes! Also, don't wear black. Trust me.