VeneBites is a new little gem, easy to miss on Third Avenue in Midtown, but it brings Tallahassee a menu of authentic arepas and other Venezuelan fare.
I’m very grateful to Keith Baxter, chef/owner of Kool Beanz, for posting an item on his Facebook page after he and his crew discovered the counter-serve restaurant.
“Would be surprised to know you have had better arepas outside of Venezuela,” Baxter wrote. “The KBC kitchen crew tried a selection with unanimous, enthusiastic thumbs up.”
I’d have to agree. I stopped by VeneBites this week and was thrilled to find these housemade arepas and meet the congenial owners, Adolfo Morales and his wife Lisseth Gonzalez, who opened VeneBites three months ago.
The couple has been working on the building for two years, learning to navigate the permit and paperwork process, renovating and refining their recipes. Both love to cook but this is their first true restaurant venture, aside from helping at a relative’s banquet hall.
Lisseth had been an architect and Adolfo the owner of a small business in their home of Barquisimeto, the capital of the state of Lara in the northwestern part of Venezuela.
Spurred by hard times in the country, the couple said they felt like they had to leave.
They went first to Orlando, where Adolfo has family, and then to Tallahassee, where Lisseth has relatives.
The couple specializes in arepas. Adolfo makes everything from scratch, including his “star sauce,” a bit like tartar sauce the couple calls “Sexy Girl Sauce.” I’d say it’s sexy good.
“Arepas are important” in Venezuela, eaten for breakfast, lunch and even dinner, said Lissbeth.
Venezuelan-style arepas are made from corn flour and they’re gluten-free. They’re cooked on a griddle and have a wonderful, slightly crisp shell and are soft inside.
Adolfo slices the arepas and fills them with a variety of ingredients including shredded beef, pork chicken (with or without crumbled cheese) or get one with shredded beef, black beans and plantains. All the arepas are $5.49 to $5.99.
These arepas are delicious, tasting fresh, with lots of meat and cheese stuffed inside, served with a housemade garlic sauce as well as the Sexy Girl Sauce. I brought some home and my husband and I happily devoured them.
Another treat: the tequeños, cigar-shaped goodies made with a light crust wrapped around salty white cheese and fried. In essence, it’s a breaded cheese stick, but so much better. The cost: five for $5 and 10 for $9. Lissbeth said these tequenos, which are truly addictive, are a staple at special occasions in Venezuela, like birthdays, parties and weddings.
Other items include desserts of tres leche, a cake made with three milks, and pineapple cake. Try beverages like mango or panela, made with sugar cane juice, or chicha, a refreshing and sweet juice made from rice and milk, or a cup of cafe con leche.
You order at the counter and can eat in or take out. VeneBites is minimally decorated for now, but Lisseth and Adolfo want to cover their walls with work from local artists.
The first is Oswaldo Chapman, who’s painted vivid, colorful landscapes. Here’s a fun touch: there’s also a piano in the corner, left by the last owner. Occasionally a customer will play, said Lisseth.
Moving here and opening VeneBites “has given me the opportunity to share my culture through gastronomy ,” said Lisseth.
Affordable, friendly and delicious, VeneBites is excelente.
If you go …
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday (closed Tuesday)
Where: 217 E. Third Ave.