Arepas seen in their natural habitat, a market outside Bogota, Colombia.
The arepa is the staff of life in Colombia, where these golden-griddled cornmeal cakes are eaten throughout the day. They’re used to sop up soups, they’re stuffed with meats and cheese like sandwiches and they’re simply popped into the mouth for snacks on the go. Soon, arepas will also be holding down the menu for a new Colombian-style restaurant now in the works in New Orleans’ Central City, near that neighborhood’s border with Uptown and downtown.
David Mantilla, a former partner in Baru Bistro & Tapas, is now developing Maïs Arepas (1200 Carondelet St., phone n.a.), which he plans to open around September.
Mantilla is a native of Cali, a large city in western Colombia, and he wants to highlight the traditional flavors of his hometown at Maïs Arepas. That means arepas with a dozen of more different fillings, from pulled pork to steak, plus other meat dishes, a few seafood items, salads and South American-style small plates.
Mantilla says the restaurant’s name is a play on words, combining the French word for corn with arepa to suggest the Creole-style approach he’s after at Maïs Arepas.
“Back home, the culture is a mix of European, African and native people so that’s the idea of Creole I think we share with New Orleans,” he says.
He’s now renovating the restaurant space that was formerly Surrey’s La Playa, the soup-and-sandwich spinoff of Surrey’s Café & Juice Bar. He has applied for a liquor license, and he says he wants to serve a menu of margaritas, mojitos and drinks with more Colombian flavor.
Mantilla was a partner in Baru when that Colombian-style tapas restaurant opened in 2007 on Magazine Street, and he served as its general manager until leaving recently to develop a different concept.
“My idea is just to bring something really cool to the neighborhood,” he says. “I feel like things are starting to get up and running here and I want to be part of that.”