Brunch at Hola Arepa

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Getting to Hola Arepa’s Restaurant in Uptown, across the street from the legendary Pat’s Tap, was a long road in coming… now granted, I never paid attention to when they opened, so I don’t know HOW long a road, but I can figure at least a notable few months right? Having only two days off a week doesn’t help either, especially figuring they aren’t open on one of them (who’d figure it was Monday and not Sunday? Good thing there’s Brunch). But I got out recently so yay.

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I’m going to start off by saying this, I mean I expected them to be good of course (there’s a reason the truck’s been so popular), figured a really sweet Mexican lunch ‘sandwich’ spot reminiscent to a truck experience, but I didn’t think they’d be THIS good. Hell this was a TRIP on level with a trip to Pizza Luce, and you know how good they are.

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Especially during Brunch, which happened to be the time me and my dear sister ended up making it there. It was here that I discovered, to my intense satisfaction, how popular the spot has become, garnering a half hour wait for a table for two (so one can safely say that, unlike the truck, not the best spot for those trying to get in and out fast, at least unless you get to brunch early). Not that we minded, it gave us the opportunity to grab some rather badass cocktails.

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Here comes my first happy surprise, seeing a menu full of fun, modern Craft Cocktails reminiscent to some of our favorite finds at local bars such as NE Social, Pat’s, and Marvel. For my sister, the Seasonal Horchata Cocktail, based off a house-made ‘spiced whey horchata’ with flana cor 4yr rum, bitters, and cinnamon. A fantastic, thought-provoking improvement on the classic spiced rice-milk drink in the form of a ‘milk punch’ (look it up, they’re delicious and I want to make one). For myself, because the sister already grabbed the cocktail I wanted, something with the name of Paradise (okay, I forgot to steal or take a picture of the menu, thought the website would have it okay!? I was wrong) filled with Tropical flavored Aged Rum, Bourbon, Vermouth, Bitters, Lillet (if I remember correctly), and other cocktail things.

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Smooth, delicious, refined, definitely a great thing to sip on the benches outside during a beautiful sunny day. I absolutely love the pineapple flavor it got; subtly present, not super bright or artificial, just that deep tropical undertone lifted up and fused with the aged rum and whiskey spirits, mixing with the botanical-infused spirit elements to bring body, sweet complexity, and that amazing mouthfeel.

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But it was gone, and we got a table, and another cocktail was deserved, thus I grabbed an “Hola Fashioned” based out of well-aged rum with a dash of smoky Lagavulin Scotch to subtly tie in to the original cocktail, giving it just a light, subtle bit of that whiskey barrel-aged whiskey essence in the back while the rest fills with that delicious mix of orange aroma and rich sugar spirit. The sister got a seasonal Sangria, Red, with blueberries and another fruit. Let me just say, sangria is almost never something I crave or ever really FEEL like drinking unless it’s just in a fridge at a party (or offered to me), but THIS is one I’d go back to.

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But that’s enough talking about booze, let’s get to the actual food. There’s been plenty of articles written about this already I’m well aware, in fact I do wish I could go back for the Chicharone and Arepitas dishes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy my own experiences right?

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It’s not a trip without an Arepa, and I got to grab one I had yet to experience so far, of the ‘Breakfast’ Variety. Stuffed with a Fried Egg, Beans, the white cheese Cojita and some Tomatoes + Aioli, we decided to take the next step and also add in Pork. Which I’m glad we did, because without it I would imagine it’d be a very flat, not-so-full sandwich. Along with the meat, it certainly met the basic requirements, though I feel I’ve found more enjoyment with their other arepas (more of that rich, juicy experience, plus the dough today felt a little denser than usual). The real highlight of the order, though, was the Yuca Fries. God these fit literally every feature that I look for in PERFECT fries (at least of the thick-cut variety). Crunchy and crispy outer crust, soft pillows inside (maybe a bit more starchy than the really fluffy white potatoes), and big, these were a delight, especially with a side of aioli.

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Main Course happened to be Cachapas (yellow corn pancakes) and Fried Chicken; the latter a drier style with thick crust, truly ideal in those ‘chicken and waffle’ experiences when you just wanna cut it up and get a big piece of peppery fried batter in every bite of food. The pancakes came super soft, naturally savory-sweet highlighted from the corn sprinkled on top, and acting as an amazing base to carry the flavors of the accompanying egg, bacon, jalapeno… and of course that syrup. Easily the best part on that plate, for it truly completed that smorgasbord flavor of the ‘full pancake breakfast’ we expect, and without needing to cover the whole plate in calories. Just a few drops over my giant forkfuls of food, and that distinctly unique and deep chipotle-maple flavor could be picked up amongst everything else. It was classic, yet modern, yet traditional in a different way, and all executed well to convene in a mass that hit everything I wished for at Brunch (unless I’m craving hash brown skillet sorta thing, but that’s another day).

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Let’s move on, two more small items to get through (btw, yes there was leftovers… not much, but some nonetheless). Nowadays I love granola, yogurt, fruit and honey in the morning, and their version is easily now one of, if not MY, absolute favorites. A simple Yogurt Flan (baked custard, panna cotta, etc) with fresh Blackberries and a Cornflake-Pepita ‘Granola,’ which if anything was more of a candied mix of the two, with some sort of syrup on bottom (my money’s on a flavored Agave, but who knows? Maybe it was just honey based). Whatever the details were, it was good, and a perfect way to have a little dessert at breakfast time; I want more of the ‘granola,’ that was just sweet and crispy and addictive, they need to make an actual cereal out of it.

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Despite that, I had to try a certain actual dessert, the Mini “Churro.” Both I and they use the quotation marks for good reason, because I’m pretty sure they don’t use the same crème-puff-style dough which churros are usually made from. It came out more… actually, now that I think about it, it was basically like a coffee cake. A really good one, covered in a thick layer of cinnamon-sugar, and then served with a chocolate-coffee sauce on the side. Which, may I say, was DIVINE. Silky, smooth, with that teasingly bitter flavor that makes you think of classic Mexican Cacao, all to dip and pour over your little ‘churro,’ which ate nicely (if not messily, and yes you MUST use your hands for this or you aren’t a proper Hombre). It’s not a churro on any real fashion besides the fry job and cinnamon, but it is still good for what it is.

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And that thus concludes my little round-up of my first, and hopefully not last, visit towards Hola Arepa. I know I don’t have to wish them any luck, so instead I shall simply set my feet, look forward, and continue on towards the next meal, wherever it shall take me. Certainly I hope you can do the same. Good Luck and Good Eating.

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SFC: Stale Victories

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                We all know this guy; simple, square, flat, wrapped in 10+ layers of plastic like it’s a Dexter victim. That boring, generic chocolate brownie one finds in crowds of coffee shops, catering parties, and, sadly, many a food truck wanting to offer “dessert” but too lazy to make anything more complicated than a cookie (not that there aren’t some pretty damn good cookies out there…). So at one point or another we end up buying one or getting it for free (maybe from a dis-interested friend), put it in a purse or a shelf/cupboard and forget the thing for a week or so, now giving us a stale, hard brick of chocolate and flour. Completely inedible.

                Or is it!!?? (Dramatic music, flashing lights, and other cheesy stereotypical occurrences)

                After my mother took out her own little square of tooth-breaking baked goods, I sought to think up a couple ways to transform this disappointing phenomena into an edible delight! And I think the obvious answer involves the one good quality that dried and stale goods bring to the table: Absorbency.

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                Yes, we now have a product that can soak up any delicious liquid we desire without immediately turning into mush like a “fresh” brownie would. Like here, you could put it in a bowl and cover with a little RUM! Or any other liquor/liqueur you desire; I even found a Brownie-flavored Cream Liqueur at a store the other day. Now we have a delicious, booze-soaked chocolate wonderfulness perfect for eating as-is, crumbling on top of another dessert, or warming up and serving with traditional Ice Cream and Nuts (you’re gonna love my nuts… okay I’ve officially watched too many of those shamwow and slapchop commercials).

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                Then again, we could take this soaking property up another notch and apply it to that warm, comforting home classic, Bread Pudding. It’s always made best with stale bread for the custard to soak in anyways, why not use some stale brownies as well?

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                We start off by, of course, dicing our brownie into good-sized chunks.

                After this, we find other things to fill out our bread pudding; sorry, as much as I’d like to make one purely from brownies, we need some other, lighter things to make a complete pudding. That doesn’t mean all bread though; I only used two slices of that. I also added some leftover cinnamon-caramel-topped cake that was made from a box (yes, you can use cake in bread pudding! And French toast!). Put it to some actual good use.

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                Pop those into a bowl off to the side and get started on your custard. Since I’m doing this off-the-kilt, and not following a specific person’s pudding recipe, I had to figure out what kind of base I wanted myself. You can use practically any ratio of the basic ingredients you want, I’ve seen ones where, for the same amount of milk, one person used 6 eggs and another only 2. Same thing with sugar.

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                All we need is milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt for seasoning, maybe some other dairy (cream, half n half, sour cream, etc), and in this case some of that tasty rum. I started out with 3 eggs, as I had enough richness from the cakes and cream I was using up, so didn’t need much eggyness.

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                Mix that with the sugar, ½ cup for me, pretty low compared to other recipes, and any booze you’ve got. Most of these pudding recipes don’t require the whole whisking of eggs before adding milk thing, you can easily just whisk everything together in one go, but I still enjoy the little bit of preparation beforehand.

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                I myself used up all the leftover cream we had (1 ½ cups, damn) and finished things with some milk for 2 cups of liquid to add to the eggs.

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                Once finished, we can pour over our cubed bread and cakes, making sure to give a few stirs to make sure it gets in everywhere. I’m not too sure of specifics, but I would guess Ideally you want the liquid to come at least ¾’s of the way up? Maybe just a bit underneath the top, like this…

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                But of course I decided to just add all of it, so it looked like THIS instead. Probably a bit too much… though the end result was quite fantastic, so I guess it didn’t matter, haha.

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                Let this soak on its own for at least 10 minutes, I myself like leaving it for a couple hours in the fridge. While this is going, you can get your pan (whatever kind will hold the amount of bread pudding you have) VERY well buttered, or lined with parchment paper if you want, and turn the oven on; considering how much custard I had, I wanted to ensure I baked this low and slow so there wasn’t any chance of curdling/overcooking, so I left mine at 300F. 325-350F should be a good temperature range as well for others.

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                Pour it into the pan, making sure to spread things about even (I had some brownies that just congregated in the middle) and bake it as long as needed, checking every so often to ensure the middle is cooked through. Check with a toothpick, not to see if it comes out clean but that what DOES come out isn’t still batter; some moist pieces of bread may still stick on if cooked well.

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                And there we have it; a thick, rich, dense yet very moist and creamy bread pudding studded with rum-soaked brownie pieces and just filled with goodness. Great to spoon on top of some ice cream, maybe with caramel sauce, or just enjoying as-is too! It actually sorta reminded me of a chocolate chip cookie but in pudding form. Though now I realize I’m probably gonna need to make a post about what to do with stale cookies… alright, off to figure that out now (sigh)…

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                As always, Good Luck and Good Eating.