The candidate: Mami Arepa from Arepas Cafe, 33-07 36th Ave. in Astoria.
The construction: Venezuelan roast pork, shredded white cheese and avocado in an arepa.
Arguments for sandwich-hood: Meat and cheese in bread-type stuff. The bread-type stuff is on both sides of the meat and cheese, and it’s clearly made to be eaten with the hands. Though it’s called an arepa, the focus is obviously on the stuff inside over the stuff outside.
Arguments against: It’s called an arepa, not a sandwich. Ho hum. There’s only one bread-thing (the arepa), it is made from cornmeal, and it’s sort of a pancake/muffin hybrid, and not very bready.
How it tastes: Unsauced, it was good. The wedge of the arepa made proper ingredient distribution difficult, so the first few bites were mostly cheese and avocado and the last few were almost entirely pork. None of those ingredients stood out, but they were all tasty: The pork lightly seasoned and pleasantly chewy, the cheese salty and creamy, the avocado smooth and, well, also creamy.
Before the waiter brought the arepas, though, he put two sauces on the table: A green sauce and an orange sauce. The green sauce tasted garlicky and a little like my prized pio pio stuff, though a touch heavier on the mayo and lighter on the spice. The orange sauce had a jelly-like consistency, with some sweetness and a ton of heat.
In conjunction and carefully applied to the arepa, they made the thing delicious — not just because the sauces tasted good, but because they amplified the stuff inside. I never really understand how this works, but somehow with a little bit of spice, pork tastes porkier, cheese cheesier, everything. There’s probably a life lesson in there but it’s Friday at 5 p.m.
For a few bites, when the sauce is working and all I’m taking down all three ingredients, this is borderline hall-of-fame level stuff. The arepa itself is a perfect vehicle for the melange of flavors inside, too: It’s griddled to crispiness on the outside and holds up under saucy duress giving it almost a panini-like effect, but then it’s got a thin, mealy, soft inside like a johnnycake.
But due to the aforementioned uneven distribution that seems intrinsic to this medium, those bites were fleeting. The rest was still really good though.
What it’s worth: If I recall correctly, around seven bucks. And it’s definitely a meal, though not a huge one.
The verdict: A sandwich. If a gyro’s a sandwich this one’s a no-doubter.