Usaquén: An artful Colombian take on brunch
Located in Kensington, close to Fishtown and Northern Liberties, Usaquén offers a unique Latin American experience for the Philly brunch crowd.
Over the past year, a handful of small restaurants have come to Philadelphia to serve a new, unrepresented taste of Latin America. Puyero Venezuelan Flavor and Tartareperia 18.64 showcase original takes on the classic Venezuelan arepa and Jezabel’s Studio came to West Philadelphia to treat the city to Argentinian classics, such as empanadas and alfajores.
Similarly, at Usaquén—a one-off, small café/restaurant that opened last summer—Mel Tenorio and Samantha Schlegel create a welcoming, artful space to sample Colombian inspired cuisine.
Their journey began as a weekend pop-up at Philly Style Bagels where they tested out Colombian and Colombian fusion dishes. The event quickly gathered a following so they decided to open their own place in Kensington at the intersection of Cecil B. Moore and 3rd Street.
For the name, they chose Usaquén, referring to a vibrant neighborhood in the Colombian capital Bogotá where Tenorio is originally from. The restaurant, only open Thursday through Sunday in the mornings and early afternoons, has a focus on brunch food.
“Recognizing Philadelphia as a brunch city, Mel saw a void to fill as there was a lack of diversity in brunch menus,” the restaurant’s website states. “Usaquén offers a unique approach to Philly’s brunch scene.”
The most popular order is the Cayeye, a combination of smashed yellow plantains with red peppers and onions, avocado and queso blanco, all topped with a fried egg.
The Sweet Plantain Pancakes are another unique creation. Unlike the classic American dish, these pancakes are infused with plantains added in at two different stages of ripeness. The texture is soft and moist and the taste is rich with the sweet plantain flavor. The plate comes complete with a cup of syrup made from panela (raw sugar) and an artful swoosh of arequipe, a Colombian caramel, covered in fresh blueberries.
The use of plantains is frequent throughout the menu and creates unexpected combinations of flavor. A bite into the Usaquén burrito, for instance, combines the sweetness of the plantains with the more savory flavors of scrambled eggs, avocado, red peppers and onions filling the mouth with a satisfying punch of sabores.
Brunch wouldn’t be complete without coffee, and Usaquén offers an array of different options to accompany your meal.
“Our coffee comes from Mel’s family’s coffee plantation in a region of Colombia called Eje Cafetero,” Usaquén’s website explains. “It’s a bold non-bitter and non-fruity delicious tasting coffee.”
It’s not bad, but nothing particularly special. If you are feeling adventurous you can try Mel’s favorite, The Usaquén: three shots of espresso with a splash of half and half. There’s also freshly squeezed orange juice and the traditional Colombian drink, Agua de Panela, made with cane sugar and lime.
The restaurant’s space is welcoming and the experience feels almost as if you have stepped into a friend’s home to share a meal. There’s an armoire in the corner and the turquoise chairs look like they’ve been salvaged from a dining room set. Hanging on the walls are works of art featuring written dedications to Mel while curved, leaf-shaped blades on the ceiling fan evoke Colombia’s natural landscape.
It’s a comfortable artsy interior and it’s clear that time was dedicated to creating a warm inviting space to enjoy this different spin on brunch. If you want to learn more about the restaurant check out its website at usaquenphilly.com or Instagram @usaquen.philly to see mouthwatering photos of their Colombian fusion dishes.
Usaquén is open Thursday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., and is closed Monday through Wednesday. They are located at 1700 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia 19122, close to Fishtown and Northern Liberties.