Starkville’s new Venezuelan restaurant, Arepas Coffee & Bar, is already making a name for itself since opening Oct. 5. Located next to Starkville Cafe, the restaurant adds a distinct and refreshing flair to Main Street.
Mollie Adams, a sophomore social work major, explained why she is so excited about the new restaurant.
"Starkville has a great community downtown and I am excited for a new and different restaurant to join that community. I enjoyed the food and the welcoming environment the employees provided," Adams said.
Rumors of the opening piqued my curiosity when I came back to Starkville for the academic year in August, and I have been looking forward to visiting it ever since.
I had the opportunity to visit this past week, and what I encountered inside exceeded any previous expectations. The atmosphere that immediately greeted me was vibrant and inviting. Upbeat music and the hum of lunch conversation provides a comfortable backdrop to enjoy the delicious authentic Venezuelan cuisine. Customers of all ages crowd the restaurant during the lunch-time buzz. Seated next to me was a group of older ladies who could be overheard raving about the churros, and on the other side was a family too occupied with the food that had just been placed in front of them for conversational pleasantries. The owner, Jose Elarba, floats from table to table answering questions and enthusiastically making recommendations to customers who are unsure.
Elarba is a Venezuelan native, and he and his wife Astrid Gonzalez hope to introduce the Starkville community to a new cuisine through their restaurant.
"This is an opportunity to do something new. We want to share our culture and food with Starkville," Elarba said.
The drink menu is extensive, ranging from coffee selections such as lattes, cappuccino and frappes, juices like pineapple and passionfruit and traditional Venezuelan beverages such as Chica, a sweet rice-based drink. I ordered an Americano, which was rich and delicious. It came with a small chocolate-chip cookie which perfectly offset the bitter taste of the strong coffee.
The menu features several appetizer options, such as empanadas and tequeños (Venezuelan cheese sticks). For entrées, customers can choose from pabelló, a dish of beans, rice, fried plantains and shredded beef, or cachapa, a corn pancake with cheese. The final entree option is the restaurant's namesake, arepas. An arepa is a form of cornbread eaten often in Venezuela, and often stuffed with various toppings. Customers can choose for the base of their arepa to be corn, spinach or sweet potato. The arepa comes with black beans, avocado, mozzarella or cheddar cheese, bacon and fried plantains. Proteins such as brisket, tofu, scrambled eggs and chicken, among others, can be added for an extra charge. The entire menu is priced very reasonably, even with my sparse college student budget.
As far as entrees go, I have tried the pabelló and the sweet potato arepa. The beef and black beans were so flavorful and had just enough spice to have me reaching for my water glass. My favorite part of the dish was the fried plantains. They were perfectly crisp on the outside, and soft inside. The sweet and salty flavor combination was one I decided I had to recreate, so I drove from the restaurant to Kroger to buy myself to Kroger to buy plantains of my own.
As delicious as the pabelló was, the sweet potato arepa was by far my favorite. The actually arepa itself was incredible, and the flavor of the fillings combined together beautifully. I cannot wait to try all of the different varieties.
I also ordered the tres leches cake for dessert. The cake comes sprinkled with cinnamon and sweet cream oozed onto my plate when I cut a bite with my fork. Other dessert options include lemon cupcakes, churros and carrot cake.
Arepas Coffee & Bar is such a wonderful addition to Starkville, and it is quickly establishing itself as a downtown staple.