Food truck and craft cocktail trends fully converged last year at Hola Arepa’s restaurant location in south Minneapolis on Nicollet Avenue. Taking occupancy right across from the well-loved Pat’s Tap, this slinger of the Latin Masa Dough Sandwich skyrocketed in popularity and acclaim. Easily grabbing hold of the massive truck-generated fan base and acclaim, they successfully converted it straight into their trendy, open-air shindig, twisting hard with an amazing bar and cocktail program; an expanded menu of modern Latin comfort food; and a comfortable air of the ‘garage café’ style which has proven so well in new restaurants pretending they are (or aren’t, it’s hard to tell sometimes) hipster and modern throughout the country.
With all the press they’ve drummed up, especially with the amazing cocktail lists and programs originally spearheaded by Dan Oskey and Adam Harness, it’s safe to say nothing else really needs to be said further about this fantastic pet project started up via co-owners and Chefs Christina Nguyen and Birk Stefan Grudem. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still rave about it when we finally get the opportunity-- especially when their brunch period deserves so much attention. For those who may have the ability to do so in the future, but still have yet to try it, it’s certainly worthy to be chosen as a late-morning destination.
It is true, unless one actually ends up getting there rather early on those perfect brunch mornings, there shall be a wait for tables. But do not dismay, for this only gives us an excuse to order one of their rotating craft cocktails, either directly from the bar or the little order window they installed outside to remind us of their food truck origins.
There are certainly plenty of good drinks, all utilizing some amazing (and often aged) tequila to act as the base spirit. While I grabbed my own paradise-themed number, complete with tropical-flavored rum and various herbaceous additions and an amazingly well-executed undertone of caramelized pineapple, my sister went straight for a glass of horchata cocktail, with the rice-whey mixture being made in house-- a clear sign of dedication.
Though their namesake, the Breakfast Arepa came through with masa dough slightly denser than previous corn-cake sandwiches I’ve had from them, only filled with a flat fried egg and some beans, tomatoes, Mexican Cheese and aioli, adding the pork is a necessity that comes with little particular excitement. It’s certainly best to look at the other arepa options, especially to get those fantastic Yuca Fries (thick, perfectly crunchy exterior, soft insides, and great to dip in the accompanying aioli), if not looking into breakfasty entrees.
Like the Fried Chicken and Cachapas; an official twist on chicken and waffles, these pounded and fried breasts are served alongside a soft, sweet yellow corn pancake (or 2 for an extra $2), only to be further piled with sliced jalapeno, fresh corn, arugula, and of course some bacon and fried egg. Combined all on fork with just a drop or two of distinctly flavored chipotle-maple syrup (quite amazing-- the deep natural flavors are readily tasted), and one can experience that ideal flavor combo we so crave in the morning. Soft fried batter, almost caramelly sweetness, salty bacon and thick crunchy batter with chicken, a touch of fatty egg, freshness from veggies, and finally a hint of heat via jalapeno and chipotle… a lot of aspects which can easily overwhelm or get muddled amongst each other, and yet come together successfully into a mouthful of delicious contrast, convergence, and carefree happiness. One can only imagine other brunch-time entrees to exhibit similar focus, coalescence, and next-level Latin-American comfort food flavors.
Take their Granola and Yogurt, for instance. The latter being made in a tender and light Panna Cotta and served alongside fresh blackberries, not to mention a "granola" simply of pepitas and corn flakes candied with honey or other sweet syrup). This was the best granola dish I have had to date, especially with that syrup on the bottom of the plate (my guess is that it was agave based) and the almost naughty sinful taste and texture of that ‘candy,’ the best part being how simple each flavor is kept.
But it’s not a proper brunch without some substitute for dessert; and if the yogurt-granola doesn’t call to you, $3 for their Mini “Churro” solves that problem easily. I use the quotations mostly, and quite obviously, because it’s not fried with the traditional pate-a-choux (cream puff-style) dough. Instead, a soft, cakey pastry greets us, fried and coated with that classic cinnamon-sugar. The end result is an item similar to coffee cake, decent and enjoyable on its own-- but dipped with a rich coffee-flavored chocolate sauce? Well that makes it a divine, silky, a finishing treat rivaling the previous cocktails. Though not a churro in the traditional sense, whatever you want to call it is made exceptionally well. You can't go wrong at Hola Arepa, so stop by and find something to kick your morning brunch up to an 11.