Isis and Christopher Arrieta-Dennis — Isis a native of Colombia and Dennis from the United State — have always wanted to own their own restaurant, but they couldn’t find the right fit. That is until they moved to Cincinnati.
“We moved here for family, but we still wanted to own a restaurant without having to invest so much money,” Isis says.
When they were given the opportunity to have a weekend booth at Findlay Market — with help from Marianne Hamilton, director of the incubator Findlay Kitchen at Findlay Market — they jumped at the chance and opened The Arepa Place Latin Grill.
The idea for the grill has been on Isis’ mind for a while.
“I love to share my culture with people, and I love doing that through food,” she says.
More specifically, Isis shares her culture by making arepas.
“In Colombia, when friends have gatherings, they provide the food,” she says. “But in America, people bring dishes (to friends’ houses), so I started to bring arepas.”
The word “arepa” means corn. The dish is a flat, round piece of unleavened dough made with corn or maize — it can be grilled, fried or baked. Arepas play a significant role in the South American diet, but they are most popular in Venezuela and Colombia.
“Arepas are like the bread of Colombia,” Isis says. “(Colombians) eat arepas like Americans eat bread.”
Isis and her husband make everything from scratch using an arepa recipe passed down from Isis’ mother, who owns her own restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia. They boil and grind fresh corn, form it into patties, then grill it for a nice, crispy texture and top it or fill it with meats or cheese.
“You come and place your order, and you can either stay and eat at the market or you can take it to go,” Isis says. (I know from personal experience that arepas stay nice and hot long after you have ordered them.)
The grill has six different arepas, ranging in price from $5 to $10. Each arepa is stuffed with cheese, beans and plantains, and then your choice of beef, chicken or both, sourced from Findlay’s Mackie Quality Meats.
When my sister and I visited The Arepa Place Latin Grill on a recent weekend, I ordered the beef arepa ($8.50), which was filling and delicious. The beef was perfectly shredded and rich in flavor. Paired with the cheese, beans and plantains, which added a light ,sweet taste, it was the perfect pocket-sized meal to eat while wandering around the market.
The grill also has four salsas, which you can add to your arepa. I topped my meal with the salsa roja, full of tomatoes, green onion and red pepper, and it soaked into the beef to add a refreshing twist.
My sister ordered the all-cheese arepa ($5) with salsa blanca. The cheese arepa is simply grilled corn dough with melted cheese, and it is everything you could want in a grilled, cheesy meal. As an experiment, we took some of the beef from my arepa and paired it with the cheese in hers and it was amazing.
If you’re more adventurous, try the arepa supreme ($10), which features shredded chicken, beef and all the other fixin’s served on top of a cheese arepa.
The grill also serves a beverage called aguapanela con limón ($1.50) — sugarcane-water with lemon. On a hot summer day, it was extremely refreshing, with a flavor similar to that of an Arnold Palmer. It tastes very natural with just a hint of lemon.
Isis is happy to be at Findlay Market.
“We are getting a lot of attention for being a part of Findlay Market Kitchen, so we would like to keep promoting,” she says. Eventually, a brick-and-mortar restaurant could be in the works.
For now, if you can’t make it to Findlay, The Arepa Place Latin Grill will be selling arepas at Fountain Square 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, as part of the Strauss Troy Market.
For more information on THE AREPA PLACE LATIN GRILL or to view a full menu, visit facebook.com/thearepaplacelatingrill.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Christopher Arrieta-Dennis was also from Colombia.