Food & Drink

From Grandma’s recipes to the farmers market, Juana’s now has its own space in State College

A new fast-casual restaurant in downtown State College, Juana’s — named after the master chef’s grandmother — reflects familial heritage and authenticity through home-style, flavorful cuisine.

Master chef Adianez “Ady” Martinez said that Juana’s is “driven by a sense of pride and nostalgia in the midst of crisis-stricken Venezuela. It an opportunity to showcase our rich and diverse cultural heritage in such difficult times.”

She also thinks there’s a lack of diverse, ethnic cuisine in Centre County.

“This is the void that Juana’s is trying to fill,” Martinez said.

You might recognize the new eatery’s name from the State College Farmers Market. That’s where Juana’s got its start, in a 10-foot tent, cooking out of a local commercial kitchen until the small retail space at 129 S. Fraser St. opened.

The switch from farmers market to a brick and mortar location, while exciting, didn’t come without its challenges. Martinez said she and her family, including her business partner and husband, Hugo Romero, did all the renovations themselves, with the help of friends and members of their church. They started with a soft opening using just a few residential appliances.

But Martinez said it’s all been worth it to see the community come together to share in her Venezuelan heritage and its cuisine, which she said can be challenging to promote to an unfamiliarized public.

“Fortunately, Venezuelans in the area have taken this task very seriously, to spread the word as best as they can,” she said.

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Ady Martinez makes a Arepas Pabellon at her newly opened Venezuelan restaurant, Juana’s on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. The Arepas Pabellon is a top selling item and is made with seasoned black beans, shredded queso fresco, sweet plantains, and a protein choice. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Juana’s uses the highest-quality and freshest ingredients available for its menu of original Venezuelan recipes. The menu stays true to Venezuelan styles, and Martinez notes that the recipes are never adjusted to please any particular palate (but that hardly means you won’t find a suitable dinner option even if you have special dietary needs).

The menu is filled with Venezuelan specialties and Grandma Juana’s own recipes, with a heavy focus on what Martinez calls “the most known item in a Venezuelan restaurant,” arepas. So far, she says, the best-seller is the Pabellón arepa, stuffed with carne mechada (shredded beef stew), sweet plantains, seasoned black beans and shredded queso fresco.

“The salt from the crumbled cheese mixed with the sweetness of the ripe plantains attacks your taste buds from a variety of angles to make the perfect arepa,” Martinez said. “This is an arepa of pride because it follows the same ingredients as the national dish of Venezuela, the Pabellón Criollo.”

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An Arepas at the newly opened Venezuelan restaurant, Juana’s on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Another star on the menu is the cachapas, or the Spanish version of a crumpet. Martinez describes them as “sweet pancake-like corn cakes made from fresh ground corn batter with some pieces of corn kernels. This traditional Venezuelan corn dish is an excellent alternative to the average flour-based pancake. Unlike regular American pancakes, this corn version is not so sweet and more (on) the savory side. Not many Venezuelan restaurants around the world have this item in their menu, but still, we are giving it a try.”

Nearly all the menu items are gluten-free and quite a few are vegetarian or vegan. You can even find exotic drink choices, including Papelón con Limón, a traditional blend of dehydrated sugar cane and lime juice, and Chicha Criolla, a rice cream milkshake. All of the menu items are budget-friendly as well.

In the upcoming months and year, Martinez hopes to move Juana’s into a larger space, which will allow for an increased menu and more customers. She also hopes to eventually be able to showcase live Latin music and dancing.

For more information on Juana’s, visit its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/JuanasCuisine.

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at holly.ridd@gmail.com.
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