Authentic Cuban Sandwich
I read the article in the St. Pete Times on the best Cuban sandwich by Andy Huse. http://www.sptimes.com/2006/12/05/Flo...
Using his criteria, do you think an authentic Cuban sandwich can be found in St. Pete or Tampa and if so where?
Without reading the whole article, here is Andy's criteria for an authentic Cuban sandwich:
"authentic Cubans, that is, sandwiches performed on elongated Cuban bread dressed with mustard, sour pickles, Swiss cheese, mojo pork, sweet ham and Genoa salami, and then mashed in an electric press that melted the salami fat over other ingredients."
I think that Genoa salami is only authentic for the Tampa Cuban Sandwiches. I like my abuela's cuban sandwiches the best, needless to say we don't really have any good cuban eateries in Oregon.
The perfect ingredients for what I believe to be a cuban sandwich:
Cuban or French bread, butter,sliced ham, lechón asado,Swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard is optional
I'm not familiar with Tampa, I'm afraid, but I agree that the Genoa salami adds a whole new level to Cuban sandwiches, and hardly anyone in Miami or Orlando ever adds it. Also, probably one out of every two places actually presses the sandwich, and that can make all the difference!
Castellano & Pizzo makes the best. They roast their own pork, which I usually buy and make my own sandwiches at home in my panini maker. It seems a bit unusual to go to homosassa for a cuban and fortunately for me i can just drive down the street to C&P for theirs. but that's what chowhounds do. I don't know anybody else who roasts their pork for their cubans but maybe West Tampa does. Where's Andy? Surely he knows. Andy???
Having been one of the judges back in the days when the Friday Extra had annual contests, and eaten more Cubans than I can possibly remember, I agree with Andy in his article that is's increasingly harder to find an authentic Cuban sandwich these days. But there are places that make a sandwich to my liking and, like Tandoori Girl, I like the one that Castellano and Pizzo makes. I occasionally leave south Tampa and go north to La Ideal on Tampa Bay Blvd - the sandwich is good and the atmosphere is worth the price of admission - the conversation and smell of cigars reminds me of my early years in Ybor City. Roberto's Cafe on south MacDill puts out a decent Puerto Rican version and when I'm on north Florida Avenue I occasionally fall in to The Cuban Sandwich Shop. It think all of these places roast their own pork, but I believe Roberto's and the CSS use hard salami rather than Genoa. Keep in mind that most places will make the sandwiches with the ingredients you specify - more or less. I'm also waiting to hear from Andy ('ya gotta respect the opinion of a guy who'll drive all the way to Homasassa for a sandwich!!!).
I second the C&P recommendation and add that they also bake their own sweet ham and use quality swiss cheese and fresh bread delivered daily by La Segunda Central Bakery. The Floridian in Treasure Island also makes a good cuban, believe it or not (Tampa style, with salami and with La Segunda bread, not Miami style sans salami with bread like the kind you get at the Florida Bakery on Columbus Drive in West Tampa). Also, I would politely take issue with Andy's recollection of the Silver Ring. The original store on 7th Avenue in Ybor City is the only one I recall that baked their cubans. If you wanted them hot they stuck them in an old white oven that looked like it had been there for decades. No press. Besides, most people in Ybor City were either poor or close to it back when cubans were born in Tampa and I would wager few had a press; most cubans were served cold. Still, I prefer them pressed. In my first months in Tampa 26 years ago a Cuban guy told me if you want the real thing you gotta get it pressed; try Blanco's near MacFarlane in West Tampa. It was the first pressed cuban I ever had and it was terrific (Blanco's is still around, on Cypress, but under new owners). The notion that Tampa's version of the cuban is "authentic'' is a bit overblown. Let's face it, the real stuff came from Cuba, so let's hear from some native Cubans about what they had there. From what I've been told, Cuba had two kinds of bread - the kind made by La Segunda (crustier, more like french) and the kind made by the Florida Bakery (softer crust, like the kind you'll find in Miami). Also, an old friend who grew up in Ybor City swears they were made with turkey, not ham. And Cubans from Miami insist that salami does not belong on a cuban, but as Andy points out that's probably the Italian influence in Tampa. Anyway, back to the subject at hand: Wright's Gourmet on Dale Mabry at Watrous makes a great cuban, but a little pricy; West Tampa Sandwich Shop and La Ideal also are good, but I think a little skimpy and they use boiled ham, I believe. I'm told one of the best cubans in town is at a little place around MacDill and Interbay; the name escapes me but maybe someone else knows. Next time I'm in Homosassa I'll have to try the cuban Andy recommends, but I won't be driving out of my way with good cubans so close by.
I'd be curious as to how common pressing was at home. I'm sure few Tampa Cubans, poor, working-class or otherwise had standalone sandwich presses. Even so, I grew up at home with a steady supply of pressed grilled-cheese sandwiches. A kettle full of water laid on top of the sandwich did a good job of it, as would a simple flat iron.
One day last year I was obsessed with making the best Cuban sandwich possible. I went to LaSegunda for a fresh baked loaf of cuban bread (right out of the oven), to Castellano and Pizzo for Genoa salami, baked ham and sliced cheese. I roasted the pork the day before after it had marinated in orange mojo. I assembled the sandwiches, and the only way I could think of to press them was two at a time in a large saute pan with a second, extremely hot, pan on top (bottom down), weighted with a foil-wrapped brick. It worked great! Worth every bit of the effort.....and my friends, who left work to come over for lunch, declared them delicious!
Had a Cuban the other day from C&P. They didn't press it, but I don't know if I was wrong for assuming that they would. Imagine my surprise when I got home. Additionally, I was not impressed by the mayo/mustard blend on there. I asked for mustard only, so I had to doctor that bad beast upon arrival. It was tasty otherwise, but I'll know better next time.
Making a proper Cuban is difficult, I believe, for a few reasons:
--sour pickles are not easy to find any more(the only place I could find Mt. Olive sours was the U-Save on Henderson, which is now a Fresh Market - and forget Publix/Sweetbay/etc.), so most places use dill or even bread 'n' butter (shudder)
--good roast pork is hit-or-miss (more than a few places in town season theirs w/something that tastes like curry - blech!). You gotta search for someone that makes it with real love.
--Swiss cheese, though we take it for granted, has got to be a top-shelf, slightly sharp, whole-milk product to have any flavor. There are definitely shops that use the low-fat version, which unfortunately adds no flavor to the sandwich and doesn't really melt.
The good news is that everything else is easy (bread, ham, salami) to find. But beware: you can count the number of restaurants that serve a passable product on one hand. My wife has even had one here in T-town that had turkey on it.
Frankly, I'm not sure what is the CW obsession with whether something is "traditional" or not; whether it is Cuban sandwiches or Mexican food. My guess is that very, very few foods were only made one way in the "fatherland". There are clearly regional differences in every cuisine, from the most humble to the most elegant. I also imagine that whether the Cuban was traditionally pressed or not probably depended on whether the dude eatin it wantedit hot or cold. Bottom line: We all know a really good Cuban when we eat one. My personal favorite is to be found as a small convenience store/market just across Roosevelt from the Tampa/Clearwater airport right beside the Auto Auction. The name of the place appears to be "Variety Store". The Cuban's have crusty bread (required) ham (required), roast pork (required) just a few pickles, a little mayo and mustard,and tomato and some kind of salami, the nature of which I am not obsessed with, and a litttle swiss cheese. The best Cubans, to me, are not loaded with a bunch of meat, like a deli sub; the bread doesn't get lost that way. You can get it hotpressed or cold. It is cheap and really really good. Plus, the people makin it appear to be Cuban themselves, so I figure that is authentic enough for me..
Just a side note: I was watching Food Network and saw Paula Dean make hwat she called a Cuban sandwich. It had white bread, turkey and mayo. Where I come from, we call that a turkey sandwich.
Salami? I have never heard of salami in a Cuban before (although it sounds good).
Maybe Paula Dean was thinking of an Elena Ruz, which usually has turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam. Not as bad it sounds, although still not quite as good as a Thanksgiving Leftover sandwich piled high w/ leftover turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce.
I've had a lot to process over the last couple days, which is great. always willing to learn and rethink my assumptions.
The Cuban sandwich was always mixed in Cuba according to my understanding, and could contain virtually anything. I found a document from the early 30s talking about one with ham, turkey, and tomato. all i meant to say was that the loose "mixto" version in Tampa coalesced into something different and more fixed. I've heard of as slice or two of turkey on Cubans way back when, but i never thought it was the dominant meat.
as far as an authentic sandwich in Cuba itself, I douby you could find anything remotely like it today. bread in Cuba, according to an associate who is cuban and has travelled there several times over the last decade, reports that they don't eat the stretched loaves we enjoy here. That innovation has been preserved by the immigrants with the two styles mentioned above. salami further distinguishes Tampa's version from anything eaten in Cuba back in the day. so i take issue with the idea that there's an authentic version eluding us in Cuba. and the Miami Cuban cropped up many decadses after Tampa's, and grew from the same basic template. so I'm not sure when it is okay to use the word "authentic" but i think we're closer than anyone else.
I must stand corrected on the pressing. according to several old-timers, the sandwich press is a newer phenom. it is altogether possible that the first sandwich i had at the Silver Ring wasn't pressed. I never said it was. forgive me, my memeory is a bit fuzzy, as food was not my first priority in those days.
some great recs here. I've never had the time to exhaustively eat at every place that claims to have "the best." Don Pan on Dale Mabry does a decent job. A small place on Busch, Dona Rossina's, once made a solid Miami-style sandwich, but they slipped a bit and then were gone. I could pick apart the specimens i found, but i prefer to instead endorse the ones that truly work. A friend took me to the Museum Cafe while i visited him in Lecanto, so i never left Tampa to seek out good sandwiches. i've heard of another place, Log Cabin, in Nobleton (north of Brooksville) that smokes their pork in a BBQ pit. the friend who showed me the Museum Cafe said the sandwiches there are even better. I hoped to hit both places for the article, but we ran out of time.
I'm especially interested in Castellano and Pizzo's creation. I've usually gone there for groceries when cooking Italian, so sadly i've overlooked their sandwich. The article made it seem as if i never found a good Cuban around here, which i have.
on the question of roast pork, what disappoints me most is when i order a sandwich at a place where i know they make their own pork and i end up getting deli-cut pork loaf, which often leaves the sandwich far too salty.
I'm compiling the recs i've received, which are many, and planning a Cuban sandwich tour. a day in Tampa and a day in Pinellas. I will report back with my findings.
re: andy huse
I know that there are those out there who love the Philly chees steak sandwich; some who love the Italian grinder/sub and maybe some who think the Reuben is the greates sandwich ever, but to me, a good Cuban is just the absolute best sandwich of all time (next to PB&J), and the TB area has so many good places for them, so if someone is going to take a tour and compile a definitive list of CHowhound quality Cuban sandwich purveyors, I would like give them a big THANK YOU, nominate them for the Nobel Prize. Need a driver?
the weirdest thing i've ever encountered with cuban sandwiches are these places that have the honey dip. excuse me? a sandwich dipped in honey? there's a version at west tampa sand. shop. and a place on hillsborough avenue, a convenience store, that advertises they have a honey dip.
hunh??? where'd that come from?
I dunno... I've been in Tampa--- and I've been eating like a pig--- for 30 years...
I just turned 48...
I worked for the first 15 years right off of Columbus and was a regular at all the places in the area...
I'm a gringo from New Jersey, but fell in love with Cubans and Cuban food...
I feel and fear that 'The Cuban Sandwich' is overhyped to where someone having one for the first time, while enjoying it, might feel/say; "so this is it?"...
Actually I've seen it happen...
Even at The Vienna Bakery where their bread was distinctive and good, it still ended up being just a decent sammich...
Especially for a guy from New Jersey, I say without pretention...
Never have I had a Cuban sandwich where the place wasn't set up for quick action and high production...
And tasting each component individually would never blow you away...
Try tasting that dry sliced pork that everybody uses... Blah!
Ham is always boiled ham---the cheese is just cheese...
Cuban bread is nearly always generic---and often crusty sharp to the point of palate abrasions...
Vienna was the only exception...
Often I've had to gargle with salt water at the end of the day! :-)
Certainly other available breads are better textured and more flavorful...
Consequently I make better sandwiches at home, buying the select components at Cacciatore Brothers or Castellanos...
My big George Foreman makes a decent press when I want it to...
Select breads, meats and cheese(s) that come to life and intermingle when gently heated...
An extra virgin olive oil drizzle to enhance the mayo/mustard thing if I use it...
If 'authentic' is $4.50, add a couple bucks and freak me out!
If I'm paying for food, there should be yum yum noises!
Sorry... I've never posted / articulated my thoughts on the subject before...
And don't get me started on the common 'husk-dry' roast pork sandwiches I got on my last few attempts, and many times before that...
Why do I keep trying?
Partly as a confidence building exercise for a guy who fantasizes about his own lil' place some day, who on frequent occassion is able to do this or that, better...
Love is my message...
re: Mild Bill
You know, Cuban bread rips my palate too. I always know I'll be hurting after one!
But I do get your point, Mild Bill. It's the same with a cheesesteak, "this is it?", and I can make a great one at home, but somehow getting it "out" surrounded by that Philly culture, just makes it taste better.
All this talk led me to the Floridian on Treasure Island the other day for lunch. Mmmmm...their Cuban is "made right" and delicious. Although you have to practically beg to have it pressed "well" - I like mine almost crispy (of course the roof of my mouth feels otherwise). And a side of their black beans and yellow rice goes perfectly with the sandwich.
Yesterday a friend and fellow Ybor native asked me if I liked the sandwich and deviled crabs that Broncato's sells......since it's been almost 20 years since I've eaten there I don't have an answer for him; anyone go there recently? As I remember, Broncato's is on either Broadway or Columbus east of 50th street. I do remember that the food was good in the 80's......
If you are ever in Winter Haven, Florida about an hour east of Tampa there is a new little restaurant (not fancy) called Capresso's. I have had some of the best Cuban food there, maybe as good as anything I have had in Miami. Their Cuban sandwich is so yummy with all of the proper ingrediants (I have never had one with salami though) and the roast pork is so delicious and piled high on Cuban bread and it is pressed until everything is melted. If you get one ask for their special garlic sauce on the side which is killer! It really makes the sandwich even better. I don't think you will be disappointed.
I had a "real cuban" at Las Colinas in lauderdale on Saturday. It outranked EVERY cuban I have ever tasted. Real homade roast pork!,A THICK peice of swiss and TWO slices of ham. I could only eat half!
They leave it under the press for quite a while!
Cuban sandwiches made by cubans using homade cuban ingredients!
My mother came to the US in 1921 from Sicily and was raised on 8th Avenue in Ybor City. She is very passionate about her food-as most Latins of her generation from Ybor City are- and the authenticity of the cuban sandwich is no exception. We have jars of the conveted "sour pickles"- no garlic or dill in those babies- in our pantry designated soley for the cubans and she was fanatic that the original cubans were not pressed (though agreed she did like them served that way). She has yet to be satisfied with any cuban sandwich in the last 20 years- including Castellano and Pizzo but will buy them there :). She also will give you the run down on a sandwich called the "Media Noche" (semi sweet bun, butter, mustard, ham, queso blanco, turkey)if you have a few hours LOL!
Hi GFC......it's possible that your mother and my father knew each other as he was born at 1815 5th avenue in 1912, and from the stories he related, everybody knew everbody else in the neighborhood during those days.
I'm writing to learn more about the sour pickles you have; do you buy them or make and jar them yourselves? If you do buy them would you please let us know where?
Thanks - Tony Noriega
re: tony noriega
I used to get my sour pickles from U-Save (aka B & B) and they are packaged by Mount Olive. Sadly, USAVE has been transformed into a Fresh Market but I have enough for at least a year. Whaley's on Howard has ordered them for me in the past. If you need some sours.....I could manage to sacrifice a jar for a fellow chowhound to make an authentic cuban sandwich. Also, my mother said she remembers a Tony Noriega who owned a restaurant- same family?
Thank you.....I'll check with Whaley's before imposing opon you. And if they are sold by Mount Olive it seems like there must be other outlets which I'll check on too. Yes, my father's restaurant was Tony's at 3300 S Dale Mabry for many years (currently an audio-visual store). Good hearing from a fellow Tampan who appreciates our traditional foods.
The postings on this site, and the article in the paper on Andy's quest for an authentic Cuban sandwich, have given me renewed interest.
Last week I had occasion to be in a shopping plaza on Fowler just west of 30th St (Bruce B Downs) and a restaurant caught my attention so I went inside. It's called (if memory serves) Cucina Cafe and I believe is operated by Cuban folks. Anyway, as soon as I entered I could see the large brown paper bag that holds real Cuban bread, complete with the palmetto strip on top - a good sign. I ordered a Cuban sandwich along with a cup of cafe con leche and I believe it to be very authentic. The waitress didn't give me any options as to ingredients and it came with ham, roasted pork, genoa salimi and swiss cheese and sour pickle. It was buttered, then pressed. I didn't taste or see any mayo or mustard or other condiment. I didn't ask but I believe the pork was roasted on site. Anyway, it wasn't the best Cuban sandwich I've had -although excellent - but perhaps an example of the "real deal."
If you make it down to Miami, I can only recommend a couple of places for a good Cuban...now that the Latin American cafeteria on Coral Way has been demolished. Islas Canarias on NW 27th Ave has a great Cuban and also a pretty good steak sandwich. Mojito's, on a strip mall in South Miami, also has good sandwiches. Skip Versailles and La Carreta (and the tourist buses)altogether for any food whatsoever.
I don't agree with Zorba about Versailles. Versailles has a handful of tourists but after they leave, the place is still a die-hard Cuban restaurant with good, inexpensive Cuban food and the most loyal local fan base of any Miami cuban restaurant. The politicians hang there, and whenever there is a Miami crisis, everyone goes to Versailles to see what's up. It is the undeniable epicenter. Check out the bakery for inventive, extraordinary concoctions, sandwiches beyond explanation, and great coffee. Sergio's is also good for the Miami sandwich
, and there are literally dozens of good Cuban holes in the wall all over town. there are also a lot of horrible ones. There are other Latin American Cafes around town and they make a good Cuban.
Many of my Cuban friends in Miami refuse to eat at Versailles, and the few times I've been there while visiting I found the food pretty average, not bad, just two or three notches below remarkable. Now, if the reason to visit Versailles is other than tasty food (historical, political, cultural, whatever) then that's fine...have an excellent sweet expresso and Cuban pastry and then go somewhere else to eat. I try to stay away from Epicenters (and politicans)....after all, that's where earthquakes make the most damage...!
Sergio's, on Coral Way, got a much needed refurbish and the food/menu has improved considerably since I was there last in October or November.
Also, Nicaraguan restaurants serve similar fare (do note: red kidney beans instead of black beans) and are usually less greasy overall: El Novillo, Los Ranchos are two I can recommend. Great plantains!
If they stay away from Versailles, they must be new wave, liberal leaning, young Cubans. Therefore, I accept your retort. Where would you suggest eating Cuban in Miami? I am not crazy about Casa Lario's in South Miami despite the friendly confines.
By the way, Yambo on SW 1st(maybe) is the Nicaraguan epicenter, cool, popular, cheap, but possibly a bit greasy for gringos. I think the grease factor is related to economic scale.
You're probably right on the economics to grease relationship . Now, Larios is an on again off again sort of place with me. I've been to the one on Flagler and the more recent South Miami location...nothing to write home about...desserts are pretty good, though. I know some of you will find this hard to believe but some of the best Cuban food is to be found outside of Florida. In Hoboken (yes Hoboken, right across the river from lower Manhattan) the food writer and historian Maricel Presilla has two outstanding restaurants Zafra and Cucharamama, the first is more Cuban than not and the closest thing you'll find to a Cuban bistro, the second is Pan-Latin. You not only will have great Cuban and Latin food; in addition, if Maricel happens to be around, she may tell you a bit about the dishes and preparation. These two restaurants put most of South Florida to shame. Here's a link to Maricel. http://www.ciaprochef.com/peanuts/pea...
Congratulations on the article and your upcoming book! I look forward to it and had hoped to attend the Southern Foodways event. Anyway, to the "authenticity" point, as a Tampan married to a 1st generation Cuban (whose grandmother owned a sandwich shop in Havana, believe it or not) and living in Chicago, I have observations but few conclusions on the interesting and oft-debated provenance of the Cuban sandwich. (This topic comes up from time to time; my favorite example is when the late, great Johnny Apple covered Cubans and exchanged some email on the subject of the proper bread.) For the record, my formative Cuban sandwich experiencees were at the original Silver Ring, Norma's, La Ideal, Vienna Bakery and a place near the West Tampa Boy's Club whose name I cannot now remember, except that it had "VG" after the name (a man's first name), standing for "very good." While I don't share Mild Bill's pessimism about Cubans, I do see his points and share his view that the Vienna Bakery sandwiches were best. (In addition to the bread, they cooked their ham and pork in-house.) I think it's as valid to get excited about Cubans as it is to debate the merits of Jersey Shore subs, cheesesteaks, Chicago Italian Beefs, bahn mi, pastrami on rye, etc. Anyway, the observations:
The in-laws, formerly of Cayo Hueso and Mayari, did not spend time in FL (Tampa or Miami), heading instead to Chicago and LA. They consider salami and even mortadella to be OK on Cubans. They apparently press in Cuba. As late as the '70's in Tampa, I agree with others here, pressing was unusual.
Chicago has a few vital Cuban lunch counters serving very recent immigrants (La Unica and Marianao, e.g.). These places press, do not use salami, and use gooey white processed "cheese" rather than Swiss, which likely reflects an economic choice but is probably also "authentic" to modern Cuba. I note this because these Cuban places are isolated from the older infuence of Miami and Tampa Cubans, as much as they can be.
I would also suggest that butter is a common, and to some necessary, ingredient. I don't really remember butter on Tampa Cubans, but it seems common enough in Miami, here in Chicago and within the Cuban-from-Cuba branch of my family.
On a tangentially related note, a discussion of the Columbia is active over on the LTH board in Chicago. Knowing your connection to the place, I thought you'd be interested in seeing that some of the Chicago food-obsessed considered a meal at the Ybor original to be the best thing they ate in 2006.
Many thanks, Jeff. My biggest grief over that article is that word "authentic." Obviously, I came to Tampa in the 90s and don't know exactly how they were prepared before then. My description of a sandwich, my need to have it pressed, and the specimen at the Museum Cafe were all based on my preferences. My observations in the article, in my mind, were not supposed to be a blueprint for everyone else. So when "authentic" replaced "favorite", it automatically raises antennae. Not being allowed to read the piece before publication, i had no input into this. I never like it when people try to tell everyone how to make or eat something, playing the role of the gourmand that knows better than anyone else. Unfortunately, the article cast me as that character. and Cubans aren't even my favorite things--- but Jeff wanted to write about the sandwich, saw a piece I had written, and...
Doing some research recently, it appears that during the 1940s, the Columbia had small warming oivens at their sandwich station, not presses. As you observed, the presses came later, I really do prefer a pressed sandwich, assuming it can be eaten immediately.
I will check out Vienna. sound like a real winner. of course, i'll report back here.
I'll check the forum link. Thanks for that!
You say "a discussion of the Columbia is active over on the LTH board in Chicago." Can you explain what the LTH board is and how to access it?
Sorry, I did not notice the link below your message.