Venezuelan cuisine in Alabama’s capital city may seem like a strange idea, but it has proven to be both popular and successful.
Location: D’Road Cafe, 121 Montgomery Street, Montgomery, Alabama
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Menu: Owner and Chef Janett Malpartida, native of Venezuela, doesn’t have a menu, nor does she want one. Instead, her desire is for people who walk into her cafe to feel as though they’ve come into her home. The idea at D’Road Cafe is that when you enter, she or a member of her staff tells you what they have, then you tell them which of those items strike your fancy. The choices always include at least two different entrees, an array of vegetables, and baked plantains. Recent entrees offered were brisket and pork with chickpeas and kale, chicken peanut butter, vegetable lasagna, Venezuelan meatballs, chicken curry in coconut milk, pie de cerdo (pork and veggies) and a Venezuelan burger.
Breakfast is the exception, because it is cooked after it is ordered with nothing prepared ahead of time. The signature breakfast item is Crazy Eggs, which consists of a skillet of sauteed green and red peppers and onions, spinach, ham, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, topped with two fried eggs.
Ms. Malpartida is keenly aware of preparing foods in a healthy way and is able to satisfy those who are on paleo, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or even pescatarian diets. She uses lots of sweet bell peppers for flavor and grows many of the herbs she uses herself, such as oregano and spring onions.
On Friday nights, D’Road Cafe serves an International Dinner with a different country featured each week. For those meals, diners can expect a favorite entree from that country, salad, appetizer, drink and dessert for a set price. Curious customers eagerly check the cafe’s Facebook page to see which country is next.
Thoughts: My first thought was how in the world could a Venezuelan restaurant be successful in the heart of Alabama, known for grits, casseroles and fried anything? Then it occurred to me how international Montgomery actually is. Maxwell Air Force Base is located in the city, along with Auburn University at Montgomery, Troy University at Montgomery, Alabama State University, Huntingdon College and Faulkner University, all of which have impressive numbers of international enrollees. Plus, the fact that Montgomery is the seat of state government means that officials often host visitors from around the world.
In the beginning, Ms. Malpartida says it took a while to separate the cuisine served in her cafe from preconceived notions that it was like what is served in area Mexican restaurants. Once customers gave it a try, word spread quickly that healthy, homey and delicious food was being prepared that had an instant appeal to internationals. Montgomery natives rapidly got on board as well, especially health-conscious locals.
As for the name of her cafe, Ms. Malpartida explains that D’ (meaning “of” or “from”) is very common in front of words in Italian, so it seemed natural to her to make it a part of the cafe’s title.
Ms. Malpartida was born in Caracas, Venezuela but comes from an Italian family. She speaks several languages, has lived in Europe and worked on the Queen Elizabeth II cruise line for thirteen years. She is now a proud citizen of the United States who brings her unique background to the lucky diners of Montgomery. She obviously loves what she does and happily says, “Nothing can beat home-cooking with love.”
For now, as with many restaurants around the world, D’Road Cafe is only offering curbside service. Customers are asked to call, place an order and pay over the phone, then they are given a pick-up time, and meals are brought to the car.
Price range: Carry-out lunch with 1 entree and 3 sides is $13.64. Friday night International Dinners (when they resume) are generally $30.
Disclosure: The reviewer received a complimentary meal as part of a press trip sponsored by Alabama Tourism.