Monday, April 15, 2024

Juana’s Showcases Venezuelan Flavors

Ady Martinez uses her grandmother’s recipes to share her culture and educate others about Venezuela through food.

Martinez co-owns Juana’s, a restaurant in downtown State College serving Venezuelan favorites like tequeños, cachapas, and more.

Juana’s started out as a vendor at the State College Farmers Market in July 2018. Martinez says they prepared food at a local commercial kitchen before the business grew into a small retail space on Fraser Street. The space is tucked into the surrounding buildings and is accessible by Kelly Alley or a pathway on Fraser Street near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.

With the help of friends, family, and church members, Juana’s opened in late 2018. The menu honors Martinez’s roots in La Guaira, Venezuela.

“All items on the menu are popular dishes from the Venezuelan gastronomy, prepared using family recipes,” she says.

The Rumbera Arepa (No. 15 on the menu) features savory and tender pulled smoked pork stew with fresh avocados and shredded cheddar cheese on a unique cornmeal cake.

The Pabellón Criollo (No. 1) is the perfect sampler platter for diners seeking to taste a variety of Venezuelan flavors. The platter offers three meat options—chicken, pork, or beef—along with seasoned black beans, white farm cheese, fried plantains, and flavored rice. The plantains offer a sweet lift from the savory and tangy flavors of the meat and beans. Each component offers a unique texture and flavor that can stand on its own but creates an adventure for one’s palate when combined.

If you’re looking to sample or share, the Tequeños (No. 24) can serve as a great appetizer or a split side with a friend. These are essentially cheese sticks wrapped in a crispier dough than what is traditionally served in American restaurants. Martinez says the cheese is Venezuelan, which ensures a culturally authentic flavor. The Tequeños pair well with the homemade mayo garlic sauce for an elevated taste. Patelitos (No. 25) are also a great sharing option. The fried empanadas are stuffed with savory fillings like beef, chicken, pork, cheese, ham, or beans.

Juana’s also serves a variety of beverages made in house including the Chicha Criolla (rice cream milkshake), Tamarindo (sweet and sour tamarind juice), and Tres en Uno (detox cocktail with beets, carrots, and orange juice).

Rumbera Arepa (Photo by Hannah Pollock)

“We pride ourselves on using the highest quality and freshest ingredients in the market, crafted with love in our kitchen to bring to the table the best of Venezuelan flavors,” she says.

Martinez uses her grandmother’s recipes to add a familial touch to Venezuelan cuisine staples. She aims to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere for all community members to experience her family’s culture and cuisine.

She says Juana’s serves homestyle and authentic food, but it also serves as a form of education for those who don’t know much about Venezuela.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase our rich and diverse cultural heritage,” she says, noting the recent struggle and strife in Venezuela. “Venezuelans in the area have taken this task very seriously.”

Martinez says it has been great to see the community come together in support of the business and to share her family’s heritage with others. Patrons may walk in as strangers, but it’s difficult to leave Juana’s without a smile on one’s face. Kindness is a steadfast element of Juana’s success.

Martinez hopes Juana’s continues to grow and encourages the community to stop in. She hopes to add live Latin music and dancing. In addition to its regular menu, Juana’s offers larger quantities of foods for families and groups. T&G

Hannah Pollock is a freelance writer in State College.