The corn-centric menu at Amaize has Venezuelan-style arepas (corn cakes) stuffed with various fillings and cachapas (pancakes) in Doral, where there is a large Venezuelan community.
Open since November, it is a hip-looking, fast-casual spot with wood accents, including upside-down bushel baskets as light shades and shelves with bags of P.A.N. precooked white cornmeal used to make the main two items.
Order at a station with servers with small computer tablets, and pay at the register where you get a cup to fill with coffee, water, soft drinks or fruit juices, with free refills.
Co-founders Luis Ginestra and Karen Armando Cohen knew each other in Caracas, where Cohen opened McDonald’s franchises around the country and was a vice president of Wendy’s; Ginestra was the director of movie theater concessions.
They took three years to develop the concept with a group of investors, another group of owners and a marketing firm. This location is the model for what will become franchised by next year, with Ginestra as vice president of operations, overseeing expansion into Broward.
Start with a cup of thick roasted red pepper and tomato soup with Gouda cheese that could double as pasta sauce, or the saladmaize with lettuce, corn kernels, mozzarella, choice of protein or grilled veggies topped with guasacaca (avocado salsa with garlic, cilantro, parsley and vinegar).
Arepas are like corn English muffins, baked and slit, then stuffed. The Beauty Queen, created to honor Venezuelan Miss World Susana Dujim in 1955, has chicken salad with mashed avocado, while the Shaggy has shredded beef and Gouda, and the Mechado mix combo has shredded beef, black beans, madura (sweet plantains) and cheese.
The Asado Negro is another typical arepa with caramelized pot roasted beef, as is the Perico (parrot’s beak) with scrambled eggs. Fusion arepas include grilled tofu and portobello mushrooms with truffle oil; salmon salad made with flaked baked salmon; and Latino Caprese with spinach, tomato and soft fresh Guyanese cheese with avocado salsa.
Cachapas are made with a mixture of sweet corn, cornmeal and egg and can be had open-face with black beans and a protein or folded around queso de mano (stretchy white “hand” cheese). You can also create your own arepa or cachapa from any of the fillings, veggies and cheeses.
For dessert there’s small corn pancakes spread with Nutella or dulce de leche topped with strawberry and banana slices and whipped cream and tres leches. As they say here, everything about corn is “amaizeeeing.”
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.