IN THE KITCHEN There is technically no “Ellana” at Ellana’s Kitchen & More. The name is a blend of the last two letters of the first names of wife-and-husband owners Isabel Aoun and Miguel Contessi and their teenage daughters Isabella and Ariana — and the establishment represents “a family dream,” according to a sign at its counter.
The couple, married for 20 years, lives in Waltham but hails from Venezuela, and Aoun’s heritage is Lebanese.
“We’ve always loved to entertain our friends,” Contessi said. “We decided it was time to own our own business and show people the cuisines we are used to having at home.”
THE LOCALE Ellana’s Kitchen & More opened in May 2017 in the former home of Inna’s Kitchen, tucked away on Pelham Street in Newton Centre. A glass display case of deli-style items greets visitors and features everything from hummus to chicken salad to empanadas. Diners order at the counter and can settle into one of five tables in the snug space adorned with colorful artwork.
“We want to keep it a casual place,” Contessi said. “The part we enjoy the most is the interaction with the customers. It would be so boring to just be here behind the counter and take orders and say goodbye. That’s not really our style.” Indeed, during my visit, Aoun emerged from around the counter for an animated chat with visitors.
ON THE MENU Arepas ($5.50 to $6.75) are a mainstay of Venezuelan cuisine. The round, hand-held corn flatbreads crafted of masa dough are griddled, then split down the middle and stuffed with traditional fillings, such as the domino with black beans and queso blanco, and mechado (shredded beef) and chicken varieties.
“Arepas are definitely the main draw,” Contessi said. “Many customers mention it’s comfort food. They say when they eat arepas, they feel at ease.”
Our reina pepiada, overflowing with chicken salad and avocado, was indeed comforting.
Beyond arepas, the Venezuelan sampler ($15) is the most popular dish. It’s a feast of shredded beef and chicken, black beans, green plantain salad, fried sweet and green plantains, tequeños (queso blanco sticks wrapped in dough), cachapa (a sweet corn pancake with cheese), and a small arepa. Another Venezuelan dish we order, patacones ($9), features two pieces of green plantains smashed into oblong discs and fried until crispy. Topped with black beans, queso blanco, and shredded beef and chicken, they’re the brunch offering you didn’t know you were missing.
The vibrant, savory, guasacaca-style green sauce that accents many of these dishes is an attraction in itself. Contessi will only reveal that the spicy version is spiked with jalapenos while the other’s main ingredient is cilantro. Aoun “has been working on it forever to make it just right,” he said.
The menu veers adeptly from Venezuelan to Middle Eastern recipes, owing to Aoun’s family background. Falafel wraps ($7.75) are enormous, essentially two meals in one, the fried chickpea balls enveloped in oversized lavash bread alongside hummus, tahini, and vegetables. Chicken shawarma ($9.75) gets similar treatment; the kitchen’s meats and poultries are kosher. Gluten-free customers often gravitate to the Mediterranean plates, Contessi said: Falafel fits the bill, diners can substitute an arepa for pita bread, and tabbouleh salad is prepared using quinoa rather than bulger.
There’s also a range of sweets to end the meal — baklava, tres leches cake, passion fruit cheesecake, and other temptations.
Ellana’s Kitchen is currently open for breakfast and lunch (there’s also a range of omelets, pancakes, and sandwiches on the menu) and may eventually serve dinner; the eatery provides catering as well. Contessi said they are pleased with customer word-of-mouth — including a diner who recently jumped up from her seat to tell a couple standing outside that the food was delicious.
Ellana’s Kitchen & More, 19 Pelham St., Newton Centre, 617-244-5345, www.ellanaskitchen.com.Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.