Calling all Tampa sandwich shops! Do us traditionalists a favor and ask people if they want lettuce, tomato and mayo on their Cubans. FYI - I don't, so please quit slapping that stuff on them like it's a given.
It happened at Brocato's a few weeks ago. I waited in line with the lunch crowd, walked to the counter and ordered a six-inch Cuban sandwich. A few minutes later, with lust in my heart, I tore open the wrapper and what did I find? A big, fat hammy Cuban full of lettuce, tomato and mayo.
When people rave to me about the sandwiches at Brocato's, what seems to impress them most is how meaty they are. To me, a good sandwich need not be measured by weight. I had to remove mega-hunks of cold ham from this sandwich.
The best Cuban (at the Columbia, hands down) focuses less on ham and more on slow-roasted pork, and by focusing, I don't mean piling it on three inches thick. I mean preparing it with TLC and lots of seasoning, injecting so much flavor that only a few thin slices are necessary. As with all cooking, flavors should be balanced, where one ingredient doesn't overpower the others. If the ham is stacked to the gills, ham is all you are going to taste. This ham was mundane and there was so much of it, I can't tell you what the pork tasted like.
Good Cuban bread is essential and this was decent but not killer. I also wouldn't consider it pressed because all of the sandwich contents were cold. Strike two. That's one of the reasons I pass on lettuce, tomato and mayo. I like my Cubans warm and smashed, with the Swiss cheese verging on meltdown.
The crowd at Brocato's - a mix of business people grabbing a burly bite and laborers dropping by to wolf down a pound of meat - doesn't seem to mind, and I have heard of people driving miles to get one of their sandwiches or hefty, football-shaped deviled crabs.
This family-run dive, off I-4 at 50th Street, does a booming business. Mississippi Maven and I were lucky to land an inside table. Don't expect much in the way of atmosphere. It's a no-frills sandwich shop that's seen a few decades and it shows. The overflow crowd can sit outside on a covered patio and take in the sights, sounds and traffic fumes of I-4.
Hey, you aren't paying for ambiance and table service. You will spend less than $10 for an overstuffed sandwich, chips and drink, and it will far surpass fast food and the precut refuse masquerading as food at most chain sub shops.
Brocato's Sandwich Shop
5021 East Columbus Drive