Venezuelan arepas have gone mainstream. Arepa Fresca opened inside the downtown Whole Foods near Union Station on Saturday, August 3, serving a vegan, gluten-free, Venezuelan-inspired menu.
The arepas, sandwiches built on cornmeal cakes, come courtesy of EatGÜD, a company dedicated to vegan, gluten-free foods.
“Everyone really loves the food,” says David Medak, founder and managing member of EatGÜD and Arepa Fresca. “Every single day that I’ve been there, people try it and don’t know that it’s vegan.”
The menu takes traditional Venezuelan dishes and flavors and incorporates inspiration from the Mediterranean, Mexico and the American South. Customers can opt for a meal served in a traditional, handmade arepa, in a quinoa and black-bean bowl or on a low-calorie bed of mixed greens.
Fillings come in three styles: Salvajo, Primer Amor and Del Sur. Salvajo includes carnitas-style jackfruit, black beans, pickled vegetables, fresh avocado and a vibrant, creamy cilantro aioli. The Mediterranean-inspired Primer Amor, which Medak says is currently the most popular selection, comprises falafel, hummus, pickled vegetables, cucumber and a simple lemon tahini sauce made from sesame seeds, lemon juice, garlic and salt.
Medak says the Del Sur is gaining a lot of steam, with flavors inspired by the South. Shredded jackfruit is marinated and slow-cooked in barbecue seasonings, then topped with creamy cabbage slaw, fresh avocado and a smoky chipotle sauce made with sesame seeds, dried chipotle, garlic and salt.
The jackfruit is elevating the menu options, according to Medak. “A lot of jackfruit is super-chopped and somewhat mushy,” Medak says. “We’re able to get large chunks — broken apart — which helps with texture.”
Despite the entirely vegan menu, 90 percent of the customers are traditional meat eaters, the founder explains. “So many people say, ‘I can’t believe this isn’t meat,’” he notes. “Folks are just looking for good-tasting food and something different.
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The quick-service to-go style is ideal for a quick bite for those downtown. “We already have regulars,” Medak adds.
The eatery's sides are not an afterthought. Savory yuca fries are dusted with chipotle, paprika and salt, while churro yuca fries are tossed in cinnamon and sugar. Other sides include black bean soup, handmade falafel, avocado toast with a cornmeal cake, beet salads and an avocado loaded with chipotle garbanzo beans, toasted sunflower seeds and fresh cilantro. You can make a meal out of just sides, since Arepa Fresca sells any three for $10.
To wash it all down, aguas frescas made from fresh watermelon or mango, lime juice and a small amount of sugar are also available. “We just use really good-quality ingredients and prepare them in the right way,” Medak states.
Arepa Fresca is located inside Whole Foods at 1701 Wewatta Street and is open for lunch and dinner daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 720-572-8797 or visit arepafresca.com.