Twist of Plate

W hile arepas aren’t new to New Haven—High Street’s Rubamba and its ¡Ay Arepa! cart have been the vanguard—newcomer SOMOS specializes in the Venezuelan style. A bit less sweet and filled like a pita (as opposed to the Colombian style we already know, with its thick, flat, sweet corn cake layered with toppings), the Venezuelan version is at least in theory a more portable food item, designed to be eaten with the hands while still allowing for a range of toppings and accompaniments.

Alejandro Cordido, who co-owns and -operates SOMOS with his brother Andres, explains that a key factor in opening the restaurant was the relative absence of Venezuelan cuisine in the city. Besides a nod here and there—including on Rubamba’s menu—SOMOS is it. “Our parents were both born in Venezuela,” Hamden native Alejandro says, “and every summer we would go there. Arepas are a staple in Venezuela; this is something you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It can be as simple as you want or as gourmet as you want, from a dinner to just a late-night snack with some cheese.”

sponsored by

Ives Squared at the New Haven Free Public Library

The process of launching the restaurant, like the rest of society, was derailed by the onset of COVID-19. The original opening date was slated for March, but, well, things took a turn. “We had just completed pre-inspection on Friday, and then on Monday everything had shut down, so we were sitting around waiting to open.” Even after Connecticut’s phased reopening schedule was in place, there was understandable handwringing about the right moment to launch. Eventually, the brothers simply got tired of waiting and opted to open in mid-June. “We decided there was never going to be a perfect time to open, so let’s just do it,” Alejandro says. “After Connecticut did well reopening, we did the same.” Starting with takeout only, the restaurant now offers indoor seating. COVID-19 safety precautions inform much of the front-of-house layout, with taped lines outside to indicate six-foot intervals, limited stools and tables on the inside and a pickup table close to the entrance. “People can just come in and out,” Alejandro notes. “Super easy, super simple.” Payment continues to be contactless, with the options being online prepay or by card in-store.

Passersby seeing the storefront slowly come together built up some curiosity, Alejandro says, and things started with a bang. “We sold out our first two days!” After that things were slow, but this allowed them to learn and tweak their system. After just one month during a pandemic, he says, “it feels like we’ve been here for years.”

Alejandro promises fresh, simple, delicious arepas, and for me, SOMOS delivered. For the uninitiated, the chalk menu in the entryway provides a guide to some of the more traditional combinations of stuffings. The Pabellon, Alejandro says, is the “OG” of Venezuelan arepas, and therefore a good starting point. Stuffed with beef, black beans, plantains and queso, it was finished with vibrant green guasacaca sauce, which, with an avocado base, was both creamy and full of tang. The result was sweet and savory, with the acidity of the sauce balancing all the flavors. Technically able to be held in the hand, the arepa was so stuffed that a bit of strategic lightening was required before trying to pick it up.

Also on the menu are cachapas, which are heavier, sweeter arepas, equally stuffable with a variety of toppings. And, perhaps most alluringly, are the Tequeños: Venezuelan cheese stuffed in bread, reminiscent of a superior stuffed crust pizza crust. Served here in thumb-sized pieces, they can be dunked in any of the seven sauces offered at SOMOS. A highlight was the Sweet Piña sauce, with pineapple as a base ingredient tempered by some savory surprises as well; Alejandro asked me to keep the more secret ingredients off the record.

Combining a mix-and-match, Chipotle-style ordering system with direct descendants of their grandmother’s recipes, Andres and Alejandro currently offer five main items, five types of cheese (including a vegan option), seven toppings (from arugula to jalapeños) and those seven sauces across three formats (arepa, cachapa or bowl). All of the sauces I tried had a distinct acidity that helped clarify the underlying flavors.

Countless permutations—including, in the future, with the extra factor of beer and wine, if a recently submitted license application comes through—mean that it could be quite a while before repetition is necessary, unless you find a favorite. For his part, Alejandro grins and says, “I eat here every day and I’m not bored yet!”

SOMOS
63 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 11am-8pm
203-891-5592 | somosarepas@gmail.com
www.somosarepas.com

Written by Allison Hadley. Photographed by Dan Mims.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply