Venezuelan-style arepas - the dense cornmeal flatbreads split open to accommodate all kinds of fillings - are not only tasty, they're a dry-cleaner's dream.
Manuel Gomez wants to fix that.
Working out of a former steak sandwich shop under the Girard Avenue El stop at Front Street and Girard Avenue, the Venezuelan chef has redesigned the humble arepa. At TartAreperia 18.64, which opened last week, the arepas are tart-style - hence the shop's name. (The meaning of the "18.64" number is a secret, though it seems to have something to do with his wife's birthdate.)
Gomez's cylindrical arepas, with a "cup" built in down the center to accommodate the fillings, are neater to eat with the hands, as is traditional.
They come in a range of varieties. There are Venezuelan traditional arepas, such as asado negro, reina pepiada, pork, and tuna, as well as - how should I say? - more American creations, such as the Philadelphian (with cheesesteak, onions, and peppers) and the Reuben (with grilled corned beef or pastrami, sauerkraut, melted Swiss, and Russian dressing).
They're delicious and filling but not cheap. An order of two will run you $8.49 and up. Try a chicha to drink and the Venezuelan-style tres leches cake for dessert.
Gomez, working with business partner Nestor Ayala, offers breakfast daily from 6 a.m.: empanadas, the ham-and-cheese-filled turnovers called cachitos, and cachapas (corn pancakes).
Closing time is listed at 8 p.m. Phone: 267-250-2717.
Philly is about to see a second casual Venezuelan themer. Last month, I told you about Puyero Venezuelan Flavor, coming to 524 S. Fourth St. in Queen Village. Its street-food menu includes traditional arepas, as well as patacónes (sandwiches built not on bread but on green plantain that's been sliced lengthwise, fried, and pressed flat; and pan con queso (sandwiches built on hot dog buns). It's due to open this month.