Don’t store those fireworks just yet. After today's celebrations comes another great country's own Day of Independence: Venezuela, which declared its independence from the Spanish Empire on July 5, 1811.
3306 S. Shepherd Dr.
Whether or not you have ethnic roots in Latin culture, you shouldn’t resist celebrating the holiday in your own way just as Gusto Gourmet co-owner, Sandra Sarshalom, will be doing.
"We’re planning to make the typical Venezuelan arepas," says the Venezuelan native, "and we’re going to make the Venezuelan colors in the arepas, so we’re going to make the red and blue."
Saturday will mark the third Venezuelan Day of Independence that Sarshalom has spent in America since her family opened Gusto Gourmet in 2011. The quaint store is located in that fuzzy zone between Upper Kirby and Montrose, halfway between Star Pizza and Triniti on S. Shepherd Dr. White tables and white chairs are arranged closely together in a sort of family setting and by noon each day, they begin to fill up with hungry diners.
Along with sit-in dining the restaurant also offers delivery and catering services. One wall of the establishment is simply deep freezers, so customers can pick frozen meals to take home just like a grocery store. Gusto also offers a variety of Mediterranean and Venezuelan food, a combo that stems from Sarshalom’s diverse background.
"The Mediterranean side is from my mother-in-law," explains Sarshalom. "She was born in Syria. The Venezuelan is me because I was born in Venezuela."
When she got married, Sarshalom’s mother-in-law, Mazal, was the one to introduce her to cooking. "I started to create things," says Sarshalom "and then we opened stores in Venezuela." In Venezuela, Sarshalom’s brother-in-law, Benjamin, runs their five other family businesses. She goes back to Venezuela whenever it’s safe to do so (the US Department of State currently reportsthat travel to the South American country "may pose a security risk" and that "violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior").
Sarshalom says growing up in South America impacted her whole outlook on food. "In Venezuela," she says "all the reunions, all the parties, everything is about the food. You learn how to like it and create things. In Venezuela you make flavors."
Coincidentally, the Algerian Day of Independence, a North African country bordering the Mediterranean Sea, is also July 5, and you can get a taste of both countries' cuisine at Gusto Gourmet. Sarshalom recommends the tequeños, a Venezuelan favorite that's not too dissimilar from a mozzarella stick, but wrapped in pastry instead of breaded and deep-fried. Gusto Gourmet features tequeños of nine different flavors including cheese and plaintain, cheese and leche, and cheese and guava.
To make Saturday even more special, Gusto Gourmet will be be serving those special red-and-blue arepas, basically a wrap typically filled with eggs, vegetables, and/or meat. And that's not all: "We’re going to play the music from Venezuela," Sarshalom says, "and we’re going to make reina pepiada, which is chicken, avocado, mayo, and spices, since we don’t usually have that on the menu."