Favorite Flavors

With a passion for food dating back to her childhood in Romania, Ara Babos brings a refreshingly diversified menu to the city’s south side at Ara’s Euro-Fusion.

By: Dayna Mazzei Worchel
Photos by: Darklab

When Corpus Christi restaurant owner Ara Babos was a child in Romania, she often spent time at her grandmother’s house, where she was tantalized with the flavors and aromas of Europe. Her grandmother’s aromas from cooking could almost always cure whatever ailed her. It was what actually helped drive Babos, who opened her Ara’s Euro-Fusion restaurant on the city’s south side in December 2016, into the restaurant business.

“The story goes that my olfactory senses had to be tantalized so I should spring out of whatever ailed me,” Babos said. “Grandma was a pharmacist, and was very knowledgeable in plants and herbs.”

Babos grew up in the country’s Transylvania region, a culturally diverse area of the country with rolling hills and vineyards. She experienced varied cuisines, and it awoke a thirst for gastronomy, which is seen today in many of her dishes. “Food makes people alive; it makes us happy,” she said. “A hunter’s stew with carrot and bay leaf was my favorite, along with caraway soup. I can still smell them to this day. Guess they were my faves.”

Her grandmother’s knowledge and passion for food inspired a vivacious curiosity in Babos to learn about food flavors and textures. Her grandma had culinary books from all over the world, and she would read stories to Babos about people’s travels and food discoveries in other countries.
Those fond memories of her grandma’s homemade food and a desire to bring a more diversified menu full of her childhood favorites to Corpus Christi’s south side led Babos to open her second restaurant. She had previously owned Ara’s MidTown Café, closer to the downtown area, but that restaurant offered mostly sandwiches and salads with a few warm entrees, and was geared to a more corporate clientele. Babos closed that restaurant in 2015, before opening Ara’s Euro Fusion.

One of the favorite dishes, Chicken a la Ara, which is a Vienna-style chicken schnitzel served with prosciutto and Swiss cheese, made the cut in the current restaurant. “At the current location, there’s a stronger European menu,” Babos said. “I have tried to feature countries from Eastern Europe, as I’m of an Eastern European heritage.”

The Romanian cabbage rolls are made with a mixture of pork and beef and smoked meats, as well as sauerkraut, she said. It was difficult sourcing traditional wooden-barrel, naturally cured sauerkraut. The majority of commercial sauerkraut is made with white vinegar, which is unhealthy, and the taste isn’t the same.

Ara’s offers not only European entrees, but also an abundance of American-style dishes with a twist. And the ingredients are multicultural and fused to appeal to the local clientele. “Our palates are diversifying and flavors are fused, hence the fusion in the name,” Babos said. “For example, the Asian marinated tenderloin has five imported ingredients. The Greek salad has imported creamy French feta and kalamata olives. Over 50 percent of my ingredients are imported, as I want to keep the authenticity and flavors of the dishes.”

It was Babos’ dream to become a chef. Her first attempt at cooking was her version of stuffed peppers. They weren’t that great, but her mother and grandparents said they were the best peppers they ever ate. “I’ll never forget the look of shock on their faces,” Babos said.

On a personal note, Babos said, “being raised by a single mother, there’s no quitting. When one formula doesn’t work, you try and try and try until you find your niche.” Babos came to Corpus Christi for family, and says she enjoys the growing and culturally diverse community. Before moving to Texas, she lived in Toronto, Canada. She moved to Canada in 1987 from Romania.

She credits her mother, Dr. Adriana Pop-Moody, for much of her life successes. “Mom always said that she is behind me 100 percent. Always,” Babos said. “She always believed in me, and encouraged me to dream big and work hard for whatever I wanted.”

According to Babos, Romania of today is very different from Romania of 1987. “My mother made this bold move to freedom primarily for me, so I could have a life of free thinking and opportunities. In Communist Romania, individuality was suppressed, and daily life was dictated by the government.”

Babos’ staff – some of whom have been with her since her first restaurant opened – are also an integral part of her success. “Christopher Breunig is the current general manager,” Babos said. “He is also well known for his entertaining DJ abilities. Christopher is a people person, who prides himself on guest happiness. He thrives in networking, and with the marketing side of business.

“Christopher Beasley is the current executive chef at Ara’s. He received his culinary training and schooling at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. He is well traveled around Europe and understands where my passion for food comes. With his extensive and diverse knowledge and experience, he expands textures and works flavors to fit the current south Texas palate.”

Her other staff include Ray Sanchez, who “has a heart of gold,” she said. “Ray is a big part of the service end of the restaurants success, as he constantly strives for perfection.” Sous chef Jennifer Makahon, “is so talented and one of the hardest-working employees,” Babos said. “Jenn’s passion for food, and her thirst for knowledge is outstanding.”

Well-known Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis of Planet Grape offers wine consulting services for the restaurant. “As a woman, I want to feature more women,” Babos said. “With so many wines out there and with an expanded ingredient list, I’ve felt that I needed expert advice.”

Babos, who is very committed to making her community a better place, is also a Rotarian. All Wednesday sales from Crème Brulee desserts are donated to the local Rotary Foundation, once a year in December. She also has a philanthropic side and is supporting many local and international foundations and nonprofits. “Giving and helping others makes my heart smile,” Babos said.

She often donates food to local missions and shelters. “Regardless of who you are, hunger is real, and we all feel it,” she said. Making Corpus Christi a better place to live is a responsibility that residents must share, Babos said.

“I believe that our city needs help to build and expand. It is up to each one of us to embrace the community that we live in, nurture it as a one would a child and see it grow. It is a choice. Life is a choice. I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what you do in life – what matters is how you do it. We are privileged to live in the United States, where we are free and we have opportunities available, which can come true with hard work and perseverance.”

For more information on Ara’s Euro-Fusion, visit www.araseurofusion.com.