Two months ago while attempting to tan at Pass-A-Grille, an idea of eating an arepa popped into my head.
I thought about 11 Chicks Yummy Creations, a Venezuelan restaurant on Martin Luther King Street. I knew they sold arepas. You know that cornmeal flatbread sent from heaven- or if you don’t know, now you do.
But my first visit took me by surprise.
I ran away from what could’ve been an avoidable sunburn and was received 20 minutes later by a friendly staff who asked me if I was a first time visitor. I was starving. It was 2:30 p.m. on a hot Saturday, and I could still feel sand falling from my hair.
They smiled as one does before giving you a gift.
The business, located on the corner of MLK and Second Avenue North, can catch the curious eye. What I’m saying is don’t avoid the top edge of the small building where a parrot’s wings are painted yellow, blue and red like the country’s national colors.
A few of the tables read, “No Tenemos Wi-Fi. Hablen entre ustedes.” It translates to “We don’t have WiFi. Talk amongst yourselves.”
The first time I visited the restaurant, Carlos Vives was blasting in the background. A few other oldies caught my attention and reminded me of the times my mother would sing her heart on our way to school in Puerto Rico.
I’m talking Marc Anthony, Franco de Vita, Juanes… Anyhow, back to arepas.
11 Chicks is the only Venezuelan restaurant in St. Petersburg offering traditional arepas and original combinations.
“The Jerk Chicken arepa is our most popular one here,” 11 Chicks owner Damarry Barrero said. “Before opening the restaurant, I noticed that Americans love jerk chicken, so I included it on the menu.”
Other combinations that Barrero and the team came up with include an arepa stuffed with carne asada, bacon and avocado that they call la Asada. The Pink Floyd has shrimp cocktail, pink sauce (mayonnaise and ketchup) and shrimp.
Despite the variety of meaty options like the Bao, made out of sweet and tender Asian barbeque pork, I ordered the only veggie option on the menu: La Bonita (The Beautiful).
The $8 arepa has flaxseed and coconut oil in the corn dough giving it a darker look. The order comes wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed with spinach, sprinkled feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado and pesto sauce.
“La Bonita is my personal favorite,” Barrero said. “I’m vegetarian, so I knew I wanted to include the option.”
The combined ingredients represent a creative take on vegetarian recipes wrapped in traditional devotion, or in this case cornmeal dough.
The restaurant’s name originates from Barrerro’s family. He has 11 female sisters and cousins. They all have established their businesses both in Venezuela and the United States.
“I came here and worked for a big catering company,” Barrerro said. “But I knew that I wanted to open my own restaurant and make people food I could see them enjoy.”
Before dedicating her time to 11 Chicks, Barrero trained workers how to prepackage pasteles that had to be sent out in mass production to other restaurants and food businesses.
“I remember having worked at a gas station when I came here and noticed people in line buy those small empanadas and arepas so much,” Barrerro said. “I began asking clients what they would imagine eating with it…That helped me understand what people like to eat here. And that’s the menu.”
It’s unfair to expect a restaurant to represent the cuisine of an entire country single-handedly, and 11 Chicks has 11 ways in which it wishes to take you by surprise.
It wants you to forget about what you should know and enjoy whatever your heart desires. I can promise you you’ll find it on the menu.
Enjoyed Downtown bites: Check out 11 Chicks?
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