CAROL BANKS WEBER
Shining star: the humble arepa
The humble Colombian arepa has yet to catch fire in the U.S. at large, except in a smattering of high-profile foodie capitals, like New York, Vegas, Portland, L.A. But the little cornmeal pancake — distant cousin to the Salvadoran pupusa — is staging a takeover, thanks to places like Maize & Barley in downtown Edmonds.
Co-owners Venus Forteza and husband/chef Anthony Kjeldsen opened their self-described “brick & mortar food truck” and “cozy alehouse” in April. Everything coming out of the tap house and galley kitchen is as sustainably and locally sourced as possible.
Small and quaint, yet spacious and bright, the 800-sq.-ft., 30-seat, cashless ale house/restaurant serves locally crafted brews from Ballard, White Center, and Gig Harbor, to name a few, a handful of wines, homemade sodas (the Packless Mule!), and authentic Latin-Caribbean cuisine in small, shareable bites.
Like Arepa con Queso. Their toasted white corncake with Caciotta cheese is sweet, milky, with a velvety cornmeal texture…heaven. Especially when you add judicious amounts of their mildly spicy (promise!), fruity squeeze bottle habanero sauce.
Puerto Rican and Colombian by way of the East Coast and Miami, Forteza’s loving influence is all over this dish. “Arepa is found in Puerto Rico,” she explains, “but it’s made with flour and fried. I wanted a gluten-free/vegan option, so I looked to my Colombian roots; no meal in Colombia is served without this.”
The queso comes from Ferndale Creamery, north of Bellingham, a “seed-to-cheese farm, raising their own cattle. I chose it because it’s buttery, with a hint of sweet grass. In Colombian tradition, it’s often served smeared with butter or a firmer, slightly-salted cheese melted on top.”
Historically, the precooked cornmeal was used to try and make beer, but worked out better in the arepas, becoming a Colombian and Venezuelan staple. The connection to beer-brewing isn’t lost on Forteza. She thinks Arepa con Queso would pair well with a nice, cold draft. “The light char on the toasty outside, creamy, slightly-sweet, with the rich butter of the cheese, brings out a lot of wonderful toasted malt notes, and the grassy cheese [pairs] with the hop notes in the beer.”
The compact menu features three or four specials (smoked rockfish dip with crostini was one), a bunch of sandwiches, and Tembleque coconut milk custard, a pudding-like, Puerto Rican dessert.
We want our food to be sustainable, just like our community…
“We want food to be sustainable, as well as our community,” Forteza explains. “We always offer several vegetarian and/or vegan options. These aren’t meant just for vegetarians, but to entice everyone to try a wonderful sandwich made with great produce. Our portions are meant to ‘line the belly,’ giving just enough to eat, so that one can enjoy another beer or still get out for that walk about town. We experience little waste and that is very important to us and our vision for a sustainable food culture.”
You can get the sandwiches with arepa or the four-inch roll — handmade on the premises. For the Cubano, get the roll, Forteza suggests.
Get the roll.
Best Cuban sandwich ever: succulent, fall-apart pork shoulder meat — applewood-smoked, slow-roasted, Caciotta cheese, Dijon aioli, and slivery pickles. Just the right amount of juicy, savory, and tangy. This Cubano puts the average dry, flat, overly processed deli ham-and-cheese varieties to shame.
What’s with this bread? Yum. “We make our own bread in-house, as well as the arepas. The bread (barley) is made from organic flour, and at times, malted barleys — used to make beer — is added for a layered flavor. At other times, beer is used in the fermentation of the yeast to give added flavor to the dough. Bread is often an overlooked food, but in the words of Jacques Pepin, the best food is a wonderful piece of bread and good butter.”
The place is a find, one of many in the Edmonds area committed to scratch-made, artisan food and drink, as well as supporting local artists.
They host Brewer’s Night on the second Thursday of every other month, asking local brew masters to speak about their process. They also open up their walls for rotating local artists as a part of Art Walk Edmonds, held on the third Thursday of every month.
Hours: Wed.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
525 Main St., Edmonds
Featured Image: No visit to Maize & Barley is complete without Arepa con Queso, a Cubano sandwich, smoked rockfish dip and crostini, and the popular “Packless Mule,” a refreshing, homemade ginger and lime soda.