Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Sad Cuban: The Cuban Sandwich Cafe

Bring up the Cuban sandwich around here and everybody has an opinion.   

People in Tampa love their Cubans and when you move away, you realize how much you do too.  It's a staple of the Tampa food landscape, a sandwich that blankets the city like pawn shops and stripper bars.  You can get them anywhere, from delicatessens and Cuban restaurants to bakeries, grocery stores, meat markets and gas stations.  The Cuban sandwich is old hat in these parts and, unfortunately, that's what some of them taste like.

For my readers far and wide who are unfamiliar with the Cuban's ingredients, the traditional sandwich consists of fresh Cuban bread, seasoned, roasted pork, ham, salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard.  After layering, the sandwich is pressed flat in a sandwich press, thereby melting the cheese and crisping the bread to a delightful, noisy crunch.  Over the years, the sandwich has been bastardized to include lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise, so many establishments inquire if you would like these additions and also ask if you wish to have it pressed.   If you don't get it pressed and add all of the other toppings, just order a sub from the Publix deli and call it a day.  But don't call it a Cuban!  

The president of the Columbia Restaurant, Richard Gonzmart, was so obsessed with re-creating the Cuban sandwich of his youth that he embarked on a quest to locate the perfect oven for roasting pork.  He purchased a $30,000 combination steam and heat oven, which he had installed in his landmark Ybor City restaurant, where he now claims to serve the authentic Cuban sandwich, complete with the roasted pork of his dreams, imported peppercorn-filled Genoa salami, and fresh ham marinated in sour orange and garlic.

A true Cuban sandwich is not what I sampled today when I picked up some takeout from The Cuban Sandwich Cafe on Florida Avenue.  Here are eight reasons why I won't be returning to this eatery for my Cubans:

First offense, mayo on the bread.  What are they thinking?  Second, a barely-there layer of pork that had an off taste.  Unpleasant and probably a good thing there was so little of it.  Third, run-of-the-mill ham that could have come from the grocery store deli counter or my own refrigerator.  Fourth, a couple of paper-thin circles of wilted dill pickle.  Fifth, one razor-thin slice of spiceless, boring salami, cut in half, to cover at least an 8-inch sandwich.  Sixth, ditto for the single piece of Swiss cheese.   Seventh, the absence of all moisture and a shortage of mustard.  Eighth, the bread was okay but should have been brushed with butter before getting pressed.   At least that would have added some flavor to this disappointing imitation.

Okay, eight is enough!

Cost:  $4.85. 
Verdict:  Cheap, but not good.

Restaurant Info:
The Cuban Sandwich Cafe
10434 N. Florida Avenue

1 comment:

  1. We ate there several yrs ago and agree with the evaluation in the blog post. The food was awful. Why it's so difficult to find a good Cuban sandwich in a city boasting of a large population with Cuban heritage is a mystery to me. In the 30+ yrs we lived in the area, we rarely found a good authentic Cuban sandwich. There were even city-wide contests as to which restaurant had the best one. Silver Ring used to be popular but it "franchised" out and then the sandwich became unidentifiable. I wish the blogger bon chance in her search for the genuine Cuban sandwich.