Welcome to our new feature, in which we highlight and break down humble sandwiches from various eateries in our respective cities.
The Subject: La Sureña, from Venezuelan favorite Caracas Arepa Bar.
This tiny East Village storefront opened in 2003, and, thanks to a winning combination of low prices and solid food, it’s been full-to-overflowing with hungry hordes pretty much ever since. A second branch popped up in Brooklyn a few years ago, and when I found myself in the neighborhood on a recent sunny afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the patio for an al fresco lunch.
Outer Goods: Similar in style to a Middle Eastern pita sandwich or a Trinidadian double, the griddled corn cake known as the arepa is sturdy on the outside, yet pillowy-soft on the inside, which makes it an excellent vehicle for any number of fillings, no matter how wet and sloppy.
Inner Beauty: Nearly half of the arepas on offer are vegetarian, but as usual, I was lured toward the carnivorous when I spotted this chorizo-and-chicken combination; as soon as I realized that the meat would be bookended by chimichurri and slices of fresh avocado, I looked no further. Don’t ask me why, but I was expecting shredded, possibly even stewed chicken, so the grilled breast meat came as a (not a wholly welcome) surprise. It did, however, give me the perfect excuse to repeatedly dowse the moist but bland chicken with the restaurant’s legendarily addictive special sauce, a move that would eventually bring me to tears. Which, of course, I love.
Accessories: Various hypotheses swirl around the aforementioned sauce, the secrets of which the Caracas team refuses to reveal. It’s speculated that fruit of some sort—likely mango or papaya—is blended with chilies, cilantro, garlic, and vinegar for that sweet-hot burn. (This recipe, which attempts to recreate the magic, doesn’t call for any spice, but otherwise appears to be right on the money.) Another essential accompaniment, especially if you use a heavy hand with that sauce?
A little something from the cocktail list, of course. I went with a rum Manhattan, starring deliciously aged, decidedly non-Bacardi liquor, homemade bitters, and marinated blueberries. Sipped slowly before my food came out and with a bit more urgency after, it was a miracle I managed to limit myself to just one.
Verdict: I was less than impressed with La Sureña, but in the past, I’ve enjoyed De Pabellón (shredded beef, black beans, white salty cheese, and sweet plantains) and La de Pernil (roasted pork shoulder with tomato slices and a spicy mango sauce); I’d return to try La Mulata, which sounds like sweet-salty-spicy heaven (sweet plaintains, cheese, and jalapeños, among other things), and the rest of the cocktail menu. And I might take home a bottle of that special sauce while I’m at it.
Caracas Arepa Bar
291 Grand st.
93 1/2 E 7th St.
New York, NY