Maybe because the ingredients are always fresh. Maybe because everything is always prepared only when you order it. Maybe because everything is made from scratch.
If you are lucky enough to bump into a tiny cafe off Sheppard and W. Main called Gusto Gourmet, you may disregard it for it’s simplicity. The non-pretentious cafe has only 4-5 tables and three fridges.
Sit down and order. You are about to sample some of the best flavors of Venezuela… without going physically there.
Today I want to dedicate my post to all Houston foodies that are always looking for interesting flavors to experience around the city. Being a foodie myself, I am very careful about where I eat and what I eat, and the flavors of it. Being from Venezuela, and having experienced what should and should be not good Venezuelan food, you can trust that my palate is well trained to understand the difference.
Cool, but what is an Arepa?
An Arepa is a round-shaped, semi-flat bun made out of corn flower. A gluten-free wonder, it is as versatile as the fillings that you want put in. The filling is placed inside the arepa by slicing through it longitudinally once it’s cooked. The cooking is typically done on a grill, although some people fry them too. An arepa must be served immediately after cooking it. It usually has a crunchy outside while the inside is soft. The dough itself tastes like polenta without the dressing.
But what gives the arepa its magic is the fill. Petty much like a polenta to its sauce. Choose a cheese: it will melt inside. Choose a meat: the flavors of the sauce will blend with the softness of the internal dough. Choose a contrasting combination of flavors, like say, the “Pabellón”: Meat in a sauce, fried sweet plantains, black beans and a pungent white hard cheese, and all will make a perfect combination together within the same pocket of goodness.
It’s all about the Love
But not all Arepas are created equal. Both in Venezuela and in Houston I have seen food establishments attempting to sell Arepas to hungry, home-sick Venezuelans that would eat them no matter what, when the homeland calls the stomach. Some are pre-made and then heated up. Some have a very bland filling that lacks any kind of personality. And you have to learn to live with what there is or go home and make your arepa yourself. Or, you might go visit Venezuela in person and find out that the experience is less than desirable due to the scarcity of ingredients combined with a lack of care, and then you feel like not wanting to eat Arepas or going to Venezuela ever again. Well, I am that sensitive about food.
What makes the difference, like everything in life, is the Love. Why is Gusto Gourmet my favorite place to eat Arepas… in the world?
First of all, the ingredients are always fresh. Seriously. The hand cheese that they use, a typical Venezuelan fresh cheese similar in texture to mozzarella, but very juicy, is of the best quality and is always super fresh. All the arepas are cooked from zero right before you eat them. Granted, you might have to wait a little, but the result hits home. Hits home because of the texture of the crust, the softness of the interior and the right serving temperature. But must importantly, the fills. The sauces for the chicken and the shredded meat are made with such good taste and tender craft, that you can tell there is nothing made in a hurry there.
Besides the Arepas, this cafe also has the best Cachapas in the world (yes, even better than alongside the road to Puerto La Cruz). "Cachapas" are gluten free sweet corn pancakes accompanied with hand cheese. The best "Tequeños" or finger sticks that I have ever tried, and the best "Hallacas", the Venezuelan version of the Tamale, of my entire existence. Yes, even better than the ones than my mother made.
Gusto Gourmet won’t be the place to take your first date out for a romantic outing, but rather a casual meal filled with juicy, unforgettable flavors and textures. Regarding the price, don’t be fooled with the simplicity of the furniture and the dining utensils: In spite of their casual appearance you pay about $15 for one arepa and a fresh made fruit drink after tips and taxes. If you come hungry it might not be enough to fill your belly up. Add an appetizer and it will get you to about $22.
Worth the experience of the flavors?
Check Gusto Gourmet's site:
Raquel Cepeda | Houston Jazz Singer