Ali Angulo, the co-owner of Arepa Mania in New Rochelle, has a strategy for dining at his cafe.
“I can eat an arepa every day but not three meals,” he said. “In the morning I take the pabellon empanada” — that’s the one with shredded beef, firm black beans, mozzarella and sliced plantain — “a very complete breakfast. For lunch I take my arepa. In the nighttime I can take one of those burgers, easy.”
That plan is good as far as it goes, but it leaves out the plantain sandwich called a patacon; cachapas, generously filled corn pancakes; and pepitos, Venezuelan hero sandwiches with the dimensions of a Polaris missile.
Mr. Angulo, who has a full-time job as a plumber, opened the Venezuelan restaurant last October with his brother Manuel, who is the cafe’s manager.
“I liked arepas and empanadas all my life, but there are no places around here to get it,” Ali Angulo said. “I just decided to get into the business because a lot of people from my country, from Venezuela, are coming over now.”
Mr. Angulo, who was raised in Barquisimeto, one of the largest cities in Venezuela, grew up eating the foods now offered at this family enterprise. Alejandra Rizzio, who is married to Manuel Angulo, is the chef in a kitchen that has a winning way with soups, sandwiches and of course arepas.
“The arepa was my first meal,” Ali Angulo said, and the corn cakes here are grilled, light, with a little crunch and plenty of corn flavor. They come with a choice of savory fillings: shredded beef, ground beef, shredded roast pork and a variety of cheeses. The reina pepiada, with chicken salad, avocado and garlic mayonnaise, is an arepa with a backstory. The sandwich was created decades ago to honor Susana Duijm, a beauty pageant contestant who won the Miss Venezuela and Miss World titles in 1955. It is not entirely clear who came up with the recipe, although most accounts claim Caracas as the birthplace. In any event, the voluptuous queen (as the name translates) makes for an excellent arepa, a summer picnic in a warm corn pocket.
Diners can order meats and cheeses in any number of tasty ways: in fried empanadas (also made with corn) or inside a folded cachapa dotted with kernels of corn (the roast pork and the mild Venezuelan cheese called queso de mano are an especially nice pairing with the slightly sweet pancake). In fact, pork is a fine option in any dish here, including the patacon, in which crisp disks of fried plantains play the role of, well, a roll. Pork, plantain, a little melted mozzarella — that’s a lively lunch. I have no doubt the pork would be just as good in a pepito, but the shredded beef route had its own rewards.
Sandwiches are oversized and come fully loaded, the patacon with sliced hard-boiled egg, sliced ham, lettuce, tomato; the pepito with ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato and crushed potato chips. And then there is the majestic Matterhorn of meat, the hamburguesa mixta: a patty of ground beef, a grilled chicken cutlet, roast pork, ham, bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. “Do you want fried egg?” a friendly counterwoman asked. Sure — why stop now?
I tried picking up the burger with my hands conventionally, with little success. I then cut it in half, though the assemblage ended up bending the plastic knife. (It is worth conquering however you eat it.)
Mr. Angulo didn’t exactly applaud the performance. “If you’re from Venezuela, you’re going to find a way,” he said. “Trust me. Even the patacon. I see people, they come at the patacon with a knife — I just grab it like a sandwich and that’s what I do with the hamburger, too.”
Mr. Angulo initially envisioned Arepa Mania as a spot for Venezuelan fast food, but he said that customers were staying for a while. “People are making it a restaurant,” he said.
On weekends, customers seat themselves at one of the four tables, or along the counter, and order one of the soups served on Saturdays and Sundays; (the chopped beef version, picadillo llanero, is homey and hearty). “A half-hour later,” Mr. Angulo said, “they’re going to be asking for the empanada, patacon, whatever.”
Does Ali Angulo ever do any cooking here?
“Not at all,” he said, without a note of regret. “I’m the eating man.”
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