I’m an unlikely candidate to be making a brunch recommendation, however this is the inquiry I receive more often than any other about dining out in Astoria. As someone who wakes up at dawn even on weekends, brunch holds little appeal for me timing-wise and I tend toward the workaday breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, brunch is a beloved tradition, especially here in New York, where the long night before gets sloughed off over endless culinary re-imaginings of bread, meat, eggs and coffee. Within that context, I am ready to call it: my favorite brunch in Astoria is at Arepas Cafe.
At first glance, Arepas Cafe is an unlikely candidate for best brunch in a neighborhood overflowing with brunch offerings. The “brunch menu” at Arepas Cafe consists of a small but mighty list of four options tucked away in the lower right hand side of the usual menu. There’s a very good chance you’d miss it, seduced by the preceding pages of delicious Venezuelan appetizers and arepas, if you didn’t know it was there.
Of the four offerings, the #4 will give you the best sense of just how good the food is at Arepas Cafe, and for a mere $10, the most brunch bang for your buck. This dish consists of Venezuelan scrambled eggs, called “Perico” where the eggs are scrambled with tomato and cilantro, giving it a vibrant look and taste. On the side are slices of fresh avocado, thick slabs of Guaynes, a soft, salty Venezuelan white cheese, and sweet, perfectly cooked platanos maduros. Rounding out the dish is a healthy serving of sweet black beans topped with a salty grated white cheese and a warm, crisp corn arepa to scoop everything up with. If this sounds like a massive amount of hearty, stick to your ribs, energizing food, that is because it is.
Unable to break bad habits, I often stray away from the brunch menu for Arepas Cafe’s Cachapa, a sweet corn pancake, about the size of a dinner plate, folded over and stuffed full of the above mentioned Guaynes cheese. It’s served with Venezuelan melted cheese on the side, and best when topped with Arepas Cafe’s absolutely spectacular side sauces, a green cilantro sauce and a sweet hot pepper sauce. Though not on the official brunch menu, the Cachapa is a great brunch dish, and it’s even better when devoured alongside Arepas Cafe’s specialty brunch beverage, a sweet, effervescent passion fruit mimosa with diced mango ($4). And don’t miss pairing any brunch dish with the best Café Con Leche in Astoria, creamy with an artful foam head and served warm –too many cafe con leches are served scalding hot– so you can actually appreciate the flavor of the coffee.
Astoria’s diverse, thriving food scene contains within it the inherent capacity to surprise. So while I may be an unlikely champion, and Arepas Cafe an unlikely candidate for one of the best brunches in town, their brunch will both surprise and delight. And, perhaps most importantly, it will fortify us New Yorkers for the day and the long night ahead.