In an otherwise unremarkable strip mall on Route 9 in Halfmoon is Oh Corn! Arepas and More – an unexpected and unique food option in the Capital Region. I can’t think of another local place that serves Venezuelan food or that has arepas on the menu, although I do recall seeing a food truck that offered some once at one of the local festivals.
In addition to a number of pre-designed arepa offerings, you can also make your own combination at the counter. Filling options include cold cuts, shredded meats (chicken, beef, or pork), a cilantro and avocado chicken salad, breakfast proteins (eggs, bacon, etc.), and various types of cheese. You can also customize with vegetables such as tomato, sprouts, onion, spinach, and cucumber. The sandwiches are served either on the traditional corn arepa, or what was described as the thinner and sweeter cachapa shell.
The staff at Oh Corn, who I am assuming were the proprietors, were exceptionally helpful with walking us through the menu. They also offered a few samples of the fresh juices that are made in-house, and we were sold on ordering a couple of glasses of papelon con limon – also referred to with the less appetizing name of “brown lemonade.” It tasted like fresh squeezed lemonade sweetened with brown sugar, and it was surprisingly not too sweet. We liked the unusual brown sugar undertones.
For a starter, we tried the yucca fries with a cilantro dipping sauce. I found the fries to be slightly overdone and too aggressively salted for my personal liking, but it wasn’t enough to be a deal breaker. They were still more than adequate enough to scoop up every last bit of the cilantro sauce, which was delicious.
Our best arepa was the Pabellon – “the King” – which is served with shredded beef, black beans, and plantains.
The beef was mildly seasoned and juicy, and the beans and plantains added a nice bit of textural contrast. I think what I liked the most about this arepa was the sweetness of the plantains. The arepa shell was actually more plain than I expected it to be, kind of like a light cornbread formed into an english muffin shape. The plantain acted as a good counterbalance against the dryness of the shell and also helped to highlight some of the subtle flavor components of the corn. We didn’t try the cachapa alternative, but in retrospect I’m wondering if I would have preferred its sweetness.
We enjoyed this meal overall, but I couldn’t help but feel like the serving sizes weren’t huge for the price. Another custom-built arepa with primarily meat and cheese was perfectly fine, although a bit thin, but it still cost nearly ten dollars. I think the key here is to really load up on the toppings to get your money’s worth and to make sure you have a substantial meal.
Regardless, it’s not the cheapest lunch you can find in the area, especially if you start adding some of the small plate appetizers and the fresh juices. Our meal for two came to more than $30 – not astronomical, but definitely more than you would spend at other quick lunch establishments. I think it’s worth it in this case for the freshness of the components and for the novelty factor alone. If you’re offering something that no one else has in the region, you can afford to be a little higher priced. But you also have to be able to bring back repeat customers once people have stopped by to try out the new food on the block. I’ll be curious to see if Oh Corn succeeds in this regard, especially in a location that seems a bit off the beaten track. On the other hand, maybe this little sliver of culinary diversity is just what Halfmoon needs.