UPDATE: Venezuela’s Finest Eatery has closed.
The world of sandwiches is so overstuffed these days that it takes a LOT to turn my head. Every corner sandwich shop and bodega has some kind of bacon-topped, Sriracha-glazed, bahn mi-inspired, pork-bomb extravagance. I honestly can’t even get excited about them anymore. But then there are the exceptions, and a big one can be found in Sunset Park.
The patacon sandwich is Venezuela’s answer to the KFC Double Down–a fully genius concoction that bypasses bread altogether, and instead layers its meat and sauces inside two crispy, extra-thin but super-durable slices of double-fried green plantains. Folks, we’re done. There’s no reason to make sandwiches with bread ever again. The patacon is filled with savory bits of beef tenderloin, grilled chicken or pulled pork, then topped by gobs of avocado and cilantro-spiked guasacaca sauce. It’s got everything a serious sandwich needs, from the crispy crunch of the plantain, to a hefty serving of warm and filling meat, and serious flavor-tripping from the guasacaca, which in addition to being delicious, is also just a really fun word to say. It actually very much works as a sandwich– you’ll need to hold on firmly with two hands lest it explode all over you from the inside out, but with a little concentration and dedication you actually get a taste of every delightful element in each and every bite.
At Venezuela’s Finest Eatery, a not-even-close-to-having-any-frills counter spot that opened earlier this year on Sixth Avenue in Sunset Park, the patacon is just one of several fearsome feats of eating that make me wonder where Venezuela has been all my foodie-loving life. Co-owners Shaly and Gilbert Gittens opened the tiny spot after a recent visit to Venezuela, where Gilbert originally hails from, and where they fell hard for the street food. And you can’t talk Venezuela street food without getting into perros calientes–yes, that translates to hot dog, and no, this is not like anything you’ve ever seen at Nathan’s. This all-beef wiener comes smothered, and I do mean smothered, with coleslaw, ketchup, mustard, shredded cheese, “pink sauce” (mayo-ketchup), more gusacaca, lettuce, and mounds upon mounds of crispy little slivers of fried potato.
I can’t say that this one is remotely doable to pick up and eat without making a mess, but it’s very much worth diving into face-first. The cachapas–fresh corn pancakes filled with melty cheese and more pulled pork (or the meat of your choice), are equally exciting. As it was dinnertime when I visited I expected something more like a savory crepe–but these are straight-up pancakes, sweet and fluffy, golden-brown on the outside, and stuffed with enough meat to make a turducken blush. I half wanted to ask for maple syrup or to crack a fried egg on top…but we just poured on tons more guasacaca and soldiered forward.
At Venezuela’s Finest Eatery, you’ll also find more familiar arepas (grilled stuffed corn patties filled with even more meat and cheese), plus empanadas (unlike other South American empanadas, these are made from corn rather than wheat, so they’re kind of like an arepa except with a fully crisped exterior). If you somehow have any room left after that full-fledged meat-and-cheese assault, for dessert there’s bien me sabe (which charmingly translates to, “tastes good to me!”), a layered coconut cake filled with coconut cream, a “splash of cinnamon” and a good deal more than a splash of rum.
If you haven’t started running down to Sunset Park yet, please note that Venezuela’s Finest is only open Thursday to Sunday, with Wednesday service coming soon. There’s some discrepancy even in their posted hours so I’d call ahead to make sure they’re open before you board the train. As long as it’s open, it’s well worth a trip. VFE is not the first restaurant to bring Venezuelan street food to Brooklyn, and Caracas Arepa Bar in Williamsburg is probably the most well known, but I’d wager to say this newcomer is the cheapest. Starting at $2 for a plain empanada and ranging up to $8 for that Everest of a patacon sandwich, everything is a tremendous value, and tremendously good. Extra guasacaca sauce is 50 cents–dig in and go big, you’re gonna wanna go ahead and spend at least a dollar on it.
5017 6th Avenue (near 51st Street); 917-909-1891; venezuelaeats.com