I’m told “Masas” means dough in Spanish. For very little “dough” you can consume A LOT of dough at Masas Arepera, a new, family-run spot in a tiny strip mall on Westport Ave in Norwalk.
(Bring some dough, though, because it’s cash only.)
Place your order at the counter. Menu items are listed on the wall and for those of us who don’t speak Spanish there is a yellow take-out menu with helpful English descriptions. (The Venezuelan family and staff are friendly but not much English is spoken.) Note also that all items may not be available at all times. (One member of our group had been told on an earlier visit that chicken wasn’t available that day.) So be prepared to go with the flow. We’re very glad we did.
Thanks to Tania, our intrepid Spanish-speaking arepa expert, we sampled TONS of hot, tasty, authentic Latin fare. The food was somewhat slow to arrive, but it arrived steaming hot, extremely fresh and nicely presented on disposable (and environmentally friendly) bamboo plates. Clearly, everything was made to order. It tasted, as Tania said, like the home-cooked arepas her friend’s Colombian aunt used to make.
You must bring the kids for the Cachapas, sweet corn pancakes, stuffed with two different kinds of cheese. These sweet corn pancakes had a hearty corn texture, grilled to buttery perfection. Cachapas with Queso de Mano (a sweet, hand-made cheese with the consistency of melted mozzarella) was sweet and grilled-cheesy good. Our group was captivated. And then we tried the Cachapas with Guayanes Cheese . . . and liked it even better! The guayanes cheese was saltier, providing a nice contrast with the sweet corn pancake.
Arepas came next. There are more than twenty-five different kinds of arepas listed. These unleavened cornmeal patties are home made daily and grilled to order. They are the ultimate Venezuelan comfort food, wonderfully crisp on the outside, soft and steamy inside. Stuff virtually anything inside and you have a delicious, filling meal!
Our favorite was the Arepa Pabellon, with black beans, shredded seasoned beef and sweet plantains. I personally would have been happy – and completely sated -- with just the well-seasoned black beans and sweet plantains. But the group also liked the addition of shredded beef for contrast, taste and texture. Alone, it was a dense, filling meal for at least one or two people!
Similarly, the Pollo (chicken) arepa arrived steaming hot and laden with succulent soft filling. The shredded chicken had a mild flavor, made better by the addition of the garlic cilantro sauce served on the side. Finally, the Queso arepa was literally stuffed full of a white cheese that had the texture and flavor of a cross between fresh mozzarella and mild feta. Though this single ingredient arepa was not our favorite on the menu, we agreed that the cheese was memorable.
Though thoroughly stuffed at this point, we felt compelled to try a few of the many other items on the menu. The Empanadas were deep fried corn dough folded around similar fillings. They all arrived hot, crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside. Our favorite was the Domino, stuffed with those savory black beans and crumbled white cheese. The Carne Mechada (shredded beef) and Pollo (shredded chicken) fillings were also fresh . . . but decidedly more flavorful when dipped in the cilantro garlic sauce. The Carne Molida, made with ground beef was richly savory and a definite re-order.
We tried the Yuca Salcochada/Frita (cooked or fried cassava), an acompanantes (side order) we thought would be a hit with our younger eaters. It certainly should be! Served like huge French fries, deep fried but not greasy, with crunch and firm texture, the planks of yucca were drizzled with the garlic cilantro sauce . . . and very addictive.
Don’t leave Masas without trying one of their fresh fruit drinks. We particularly liked the Lechosa, a frozen drink blended with Lechosa melon and ice. It was very fresh, not overly sweet, and (we are almost certain) dairy-free. The kids should also like the Guayaba, a fresh frozen guava drink, for its sweet, fruity flavor (and pretty pink color!). When asked to whip up something healthy, I received a wonderful freshly juiced blend of beets, carrots, and orange juice.
Masas is a wonderful addition to Norwalk, and a real bargain. With Arepas served for under $4.00, and the costliest of empanadas priced at $3.49, how can you go wrong? Plus, they offer smaller versions of most of the menu items for children. For casual, authentic arepas and acompanantes, DOUGHn't miss Masas.
Masas 330 Westport Ave, Norwalk. 203.939.1113