Walking into Cruzao Arepa Bar on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, I was instantly greeted by the dulcet tones of Erika Camera, the female counterpart of Ricky y la Bandida. In the crowded, dark little bar, her voice seemed the perfect accompaniment to the food I was about to eat. I'd been looking forward to visiting this cafe for quite a while; coming from a Colombian background and being fed arepas since birth, I was so excited to finally get my hands on these cornmeal-based delights which I hadn't had in almost 10 years. Although Cruzao Arepa Bar serves traditional Venezuelan fare, an arepa is an arepa and I was interested to see Venezuela's take on my favorite childhood treat.
For a Monday night, I was surprised at how packed it was and quietly congratulated myself on making a booking. We were seated by one of the very friendly (and Venezuelan) staff and immediately offered one of their specialty cocktails: a hard choice to make but I eventually ordered the guarapita, a rum-based drink with passionfruit -- delicious.
Simple yet delicious: a mango bajito and a guarapita
Cruzao's menu is wondrous in its variety, and I highly recommend bringing along at least two friends so that you can try a good sample of it all. After much deliberation, I finally decided on the 'platote' served with chorizo, chicken and avocado, and pork leg. Platotes, Spanish for 'dish' or 'plate', are baskets filled with a number of arepas, served with your choice of fillings as well as guasacaca (Venezuelan guacamole), cheese and salad. A traditional Venezuelan meal in itself, I knew this would be enough for the two of us, but there was no way I could go past the 'yuca fritas' (yuca, a root vegetable, fried golden and crispy) or the 'patacones' (plantains topped with chicken and beef): other tasty delights from my youth.
Although this turned out to be just a little too much food for only two people, I am so glad I ordered what I did. And I even saved room for a bit of 'dessert': Cruzao's sangria was unlike anything I've had in Melbourne and a must-try. In fact, next time I'm getting a jug.
The entire time, I felt as if I'd stepped into a little slice of Venezuela. Each dish was traditionally prepared and cooked perfectly, and eating my arepas, I was taken back to my childhood Sundays when my grandma prepared breakfast while I watched cartoons. Uruguayan duo, Ricky y la Bandida serenaded us with eclectic Latin fusion the entire night, and we were even treated to the awesome conga beats of Juan Pablo Aldrey.
Cruzao is a great little place for a casual and delicious dinner and definitely won't leave your wallet too light. The staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and will take the time to explain the menu if you feel your expertise of Venezuelan foods just a tiny bit lacking.
While I'm incredibly happy with the food, atmosphere and the wonderful friendliness of the staff, it must be said that the waiting time for my main was a bit longer than I expected -- over 30 minutes, in fact. If I hadn't been thoroughly entertained by the rhythmic live music, I would've been in the kitchen searching high and low for sustenance. I can only assume that the kitchen was running low on staff and simply couldn't accommodate such a busy Monday night.
All in all, a great destination for dinner when you're craving the full Latin experience...as long as you have the time to enjoy it.
And it's worth checking out their website regularly to see who's playing; a wiggle of the hips to some Latin beats while eating delicious, authentic cuisine is the perfect way to spend any evening.
OK Kat this is the place you must take me on my next trip to see you!! It sounds amazing and the food looks too yummy....I made arepas this past weekend and platanos fritos. We thought of you :-)
By Anonymous Tuesday, 30th of August @ 05:56 pm
So nice to see South American customs, traditions, culture and gastronomic fare in Melbourne. For those of us with Sth American backgrounds it helps bring back a small part of our past into the present and combine it with this amazing city we all have the pleasure of being part of. Bien ahi hermana, saludos y gracias de un Uruguayo, Enrique
By emm19 - reader Wednesday, 31st of August @ 12:28 am
Truly one of the best mojitos I've ever had.
Food was great. Service was very good. Overall value was excellent.
Live music tops it off for a great night and there's always something something new.
Will definitely be back.
By Anonymous Monday, 12th of September @ 10:48 pm
YES love the music and food at Arepas Bar,
will be back, si si si.
By Anonymous Thursday, 8th of March @ 08:46 am
Thank you Kat... kindest words... hadn't a clue you had written this... drop in for a guarapita some time!!!
By Anonymous Thursday, 8th of March @ 10:05 am
New reader comment. Waiting for approval.
By Anonymous Thursday, 8th of March @ 10:06 am
I love this arepa bar! Yummy food, fun music and fresh juices and cocktails... good times.
By Katy Holliday - senior reviewer Thursday, 13th of June @ 06:04 am
I'm pretty sure this place has been shut for a while now
By no1ss - reader Wednesday, 22nd of April @ 11:20 pm