Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making the List: La Septima Cafe

We move around a lot, or so it seems.  About every five years Hubmeister's company moves him to another location and we go through all the aches and pains of packing up, buying and selling houses, settling kids into schools, saying goodbye to friends and neighbors, and leaving all that's become comfortable and familiar.  It's exciting yet sad, a blessing yet a curse.  In food terms, I guess you could say it is bittersweet.

So, I read with interest a recent article on a local news blog about a young Tampa woman who decided to visit all her favorite restaurants before departing for law school in Miami.  She had some intriguing choices and they got me thinking about which dining establishments I felt compelled to visit before my big moves.  The future lawyer had a couple high-end spots on her list, such as Sidebern's and Mise en Place, but the majority were affordable local favorites, including La Teresita, Zudar's Deli, and Crab Shack.  

The restaurants that crop up on my list from past moves also tend to be casual hangouts where we took the kids and had fun, not the upscale, celebrate-the-anniversary-type spots.   All had decent food but not award-winning cuisine.  I believe a pizza joint has made the list at every locale. 

A restaurant that would probably make my list here is La Septima Cafe.  Located in a tiny strip mall on Parsons Road in Brandon, La Septima is a restaurant I have visited on several occasions since my return to Tampa a few years ago. 

Exuding the intimate charm inherent in a family-run operation, this small Cuban eatery appears stuck in a time warp, as if some of the decor could be seen on "That '70s Show."  But it's a retro spot you're happy to visit and nobody seems to care about the dated wallpaper, the dark carpet, or the Tiffany-style fixtures illuminating the tables.  La Septima hasn't redecorated in a while, if ever, but it's a prime example of a comfortable place to hang out, like visiting an aunt who has lived in the same house as long as you can remember, offering you delicious meals from her trusted kitchen.

Named after Ybor's historic Seventh Avenue and bedecked with vintage photos of Ybor City, this 15-year-old cafe offers Cuban-style breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I have sampled all three menus, with multiple lunch visits to my credit.

A generous breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and Cuban toast really hit the spot, and if I lived in Brandon I would be eating it all too often.  Lunch and dinner menus incorporate traditional Cuban dishes, such as Palomilla, Picadillo, and Arroz con Pollo, and daily specials are listed on a white board near the hostess station.  Ropa Vieja with black beans and yellow rice, a menu item and often a special, has been my go-to dish until this week, when Hubmeister and I had lunch at La Septima and I ordered the Lechon Asado special with black beans and yellow rice.

Lechon Adado with Black Beans and Rice (and a side of onions)

The Lechon Asado, pork slowly roasted in sour orange mojo, was ambrosial.  The citrus and garlic marinade permeated the pork, which was so tender you forgot there was a knife on the table.  The black beans and rice were nicely seasoned and satisfying, and on all my visits the server asked if I would like onions to accompany them.   Oh yeah!  The onions are sweet with a sour bite, perhaps marinated in that same sour orange mojo mixture.  They are the perfect crunchy accent to the soft rice and beans.  When I was finished my meal, there was nothing left on that white plate.

Hubmeister, on a downward spiral in our restaurant excursions lately, didn't fare as well with his selection of the Elena Ruiz sandwich, a special listed on the board.  Excited because he discovered a similar sandwich recently in Miami and came home proclaiming he experienced sandwich heaven, he was disappointed that it was not representative of his much-beloved new find, the Elena Ruth sandwich. 

Although Ruiz and Ruth are two different names, the sandwiches are the same.  I looked it up and I have no idea why the names are different, but the ingredients are the same for this sandwich, which has several aliases:  Elena Ruth, Elena Ruz and Elena Ruiz.  Interesting name confusion.

Elena Ruiz Sandwich with Spanish Potatoes
The Miami Elena Ruth featured turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam on sweet bread - the traditional ingredients - but La Septima's Elena Ruiz was served on regular Cuban bread with a guava spread.  Hubmeister says the key to the sandwich is the sweet Hawaiian-type bread.   Not all Cuban sandwiches are created equal, nor are all Elena Ruiz/Ruz/Ruth sandwiches.  Such is life in Cuban Sandwichland.

This is not to say the traditional Cuban bread at La Septima is forgettable - quite the contrary.  The restaurant is proud of it, too, boasting on the menu that its purveyor is Tampa's Casino Bakery, which has been making Cuban bread since 1912.

La Septima's Cuban sandwich is praise-worthy, too.  In fact, we brought one home for the kids and they scarfed it down in minutes. 

On my next visit, I will try the tempting cheesecake slices rotating in the old-fashioned glass dessert carousel in the dining room.  There is a guava cheesecake calling my name, and I want to be sure I taste it before we move again.

Restaurant Info:
La Septima Cafe
140 N. Parsons Avenue
Brandon, Florida

La Septima on Urbanspoon


  1. My mouth is watering from reading this, and making me miss Florida more than usual. I, too, hit my favorite spots before I left Tampa a little over seven years ago. I recommend La Tropicana - another time-traveling Cuban experience - on 7th Street in Ybor.

  2. yummy, I need to check out this place!!!
    Btw, what is your fav pizza place?

  3. @Annie D. - Come visit anytime. We miss you.

    @Simone - Cappy's on Bay-to-Bay for dine-in; Pizza Mania in Wesley Chapel (closest decent take-out); or Villa Rina (for take-out, most authentic NY) in Brandon off 60, next to Old Time Pottery; Wood Fired, corner of Bearrs and Bruce B. Downs, for blistered crust, artisan Italian.