Thursday, May 9, 2019

La Calle: Venezuelan Eats + American Dreams

Local Food Rocks visits La Calle in Norwalk, CT

I like a good human interest story. This is as much a restaurant review as it is a story of an American dream. A person comes to this country with nothing, and through hard work and determination is able to build something for himself and his family.

Local Food Rocks La Calle owner Javier Eastman

Javier Eastman is a busy man. He's not only one of Connecticut's most sought after tattoo artists, but he also owns two restaurants in South Norwalk, both serving up a delicious taste of his Venezuelan heritage.

Javier says he always had a dream of owning a small restaurant. When he first came to this country 17 years ago he worked in construction. Through his love of art, with encouragement from his brother Harold, he found himself embarking on an unexpected career as a tattoo artist, eventually opening his own shop, Causality Tattoo Company, in 2015. (His artwork is unbelievable, just check out his personal Instagram.)

Portrait of Javier Eastman, his mother, and brother Harold

Now, together with his wife, mother, and brother, the restaurant dream is a reality with La Calle Arepas Bar and Avenida Venezuelan Food. Avenida is focused on breakfast and lunch, whereas La Calle serves up lunch and dinner. At both, you'll find Venezuelan staples such as stuffed arepas and empanadas, with La Calle also offering complete dinner entrees as well as wine and beer.

In Venezuela people flock to arepas bars (also known as areparias) like people flock to diners here in the US. They are THE destination, especially for late nite eats. Javier says whenever he travels across the country, he seeks out Venezuelan restaurants. Well, now it appears people are seeking out his, with customers coming from as far away as Rhode Island and New York.

Local Food Rocks La Calle arepa reina pepeada
Arepa - Reina Pepeada

I had to ask though, why does an award-winning artist with a busy career and family decide to start not one but two restaurants, basically at the same time? Javier said when an opportunity presents itself you can't say no.  Through his tattoo career success, he was able to save a "little something" for just such an opportunity. "It's hard. I just jumped in," he said, "I don't mind the risk, I started from nothing, and I could start again if I had to." Hard work is part of the deal. In fact, he and his brother did much of the renovation work at La Calle on their own, putting in long hours on nights and weekends. The result is a warm, welcoming, and cheery spot to grab a hearty, casual meal.

Tostones Rellenos

The menu at La Calle is pretty diverse including a bevy of appetizers, salads, cachapas (sweet corn pancakes), 20 different stuffed arepas (including a vegan option), patacon (fried green plantain sandwiches), burgers, hot dogs, pepitos (Venezuelan grinders), as well as dinner entrees with all the fixins'.

Local Food Rocks La Calle tequenos and empanadas
Empanadas and Tequños

Among the popular appetizers are empanadas, tostone rellenos, and tequeños (fried dough filled with cheese).

Local Food Rocks La Calle reina
Reina appetizer with green plaintain chips

One of the most popular arepa fillings in Venezuela is Reina, a blend of avocado and shredded chicken. At La Calle in addition to using it in arepas, they also have it as an appetizer served with green plantain chips.

Local Food Rocks La Calle chorizo em salsa pimenton
Chorizo en salsa de pimenton

Our favorite appetizer was the chorizo en salsa de pimenton. It's an amazing combo of salty, fatty chorizo in a sweet bell pepper sauce.

It's clear that Javier is as passionate about food and sharing his Venezuelan roots as he is about art. This was especially evident when we started talking about arepas, a staple of Venezuelan cuisine. He learned to make them as a little kid from his mother.

Local Food Rocks La Calle Arepa Peluda
Arepa - Peluda

"It's the first thing you learn to make. It's so simple but so tricky," he said. Everyone has a family recipe, and even with the same ingredients, each person's will taste different. Javier admits his arepas are good but that mom's always come out better.

Local Food Rocks La Calle Arepa Vegana
Arepa - Vegana

We sampled four arepas, all of which were overflowing with filling. This is a glorious "use two hands and multiple napkins" situation.

Local Food Rocks La Calle Arepa Pachanga
Arepa - Pachanga

All were delicious, but the two standouts were the Pachanga, filled with chorizo, fried cheese, and avocado; and, believe it or not, the Vegana with black beans, avocado, and fried plantains.

Local Food Rocks La Calle Patacon
Patacon

When I saw fried green plantain sandwich on the menu, I had to have it. Your choice of carne asada, pernil (roast pork), hamburger, shredded chicken or shredded beef is sandwiched between two slices of double fried green plantains and topped with lettuce, tomato, fried white soft cheese, and salsas. Building a sandwich around a crunchy plantain might be my new favorite discovery.

Local Food Rocks La Calle Hot Dog
La Calle Hot Dog

Now when I tell you we had a hot dog, you'll likely be thinking to yourself, "what's so special about a hot dog?" In this case - everything! The "La Calle" features a hot dog covered in shredded beef, grilled egg, potato sticks, shredded cabbage and carrots, sweet corn, onions, and multiple salsas.

Local Food Rocks Diving Into La Calle Hot Dog

It's a messy, delicious cacophony of flavors.

Local Food Rocks: La Calle Pabellion, the National Dish of Venezuela
Pabellòn

Last, but certainly not least, a highlight when it comes to dinner entrees, is Pabellòn, the National Dish of Venezuela. It's a platter of shredded beef, black beans, white rice, fried sweet plantains, fried egg, avocado, and white cheese. This is a dish I would gladly eat for any meal of the day.

Local Food Rocks: La Calle Venezuelan Digestif

We capped off our meal with a toast of a classic Venezuelan digestif.

We left with full bellies, new friends, and plans to visit again soon. Go check it out for yourself.

La Calle Arepas Bar
74 N Main Street, Norwalk, CT
http://www.lacallearepasbar.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LaCalleArepasBar
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lacallearepasbar/

Photos by Renato Ghio
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