This morning we ventured over to Sandy’s Cafe in Little Havana, a few streets over from Duval. Open 24 hours with an all day menu, and I have a hankering for a Cuban Sandwich. Sandy’s does not disappoint.
Orders are placed at the counter. I’m trying a cafe con leche for the first time, a shot of buchi (expresso) with cream and sugar. A bit too sweet for me. I should have asked for less sugar, but nevertheless cafe con leche makes a fine wake me up drink.
Sandwiches arrive wrapped in paper inside take-out containers and accompanied by a very small serving of passable shoestring fries. The second you unwrap your sammy, you know… A feast for the eyes and the palate. A soft bun, loaded with roast pork crisped up and caramelized on the flat top, ham, fresh tomatoes and shredded lettuce, topped with thin cucumber pickle and pressed lightly. $7.99.
While eating, sitting up against the building with a window open to the small kitchen, you are surrounded by the mouth watering smell of pork roasting and frying on the griddle. The cook adds spice to the mix and it is positively intoxicating. Everyone should start their day this way.
El Siboney, tucked away in a residential part of Old Key West, celebrates its Cuban indigenous roots. The homey restaurant and warm decor features renderings and sculpture of this native population, the way other restaurants here are cluttered with cats and roosters. The Siboney are depicted much like American Indians were in the 1800’s. This population mixed with the Spanish as they arrived in the America’s much like Mexico’s indigenous peoples.
This neighbourhood joint, relatively free of tourists, had a fairly extensive menu in both English and Spanish. We are quickly seated and brought a basket of warm Cuban bread — white, toasty and buttered.
I order a “Cuban Style” Hatuey beer, made in the USA. It is thin and bitter, not my preference but drinkable.
We have limited experience with Cuban fare and want to try a few things. Rob orders the BBQ chicken with plantanos maduros (fried ripe plantains), rice and black beans, which are separate sides not mixed. The rice, coloured a deep yellow with annatto seed, a common spice in Mexican cuisine, provides a nice foil for the sweet, juicy chicken. The plantains are fried to a deep caramel, chewy and perfect. I decide on the roast pork, cassava and tamale. We choose a side of croquetta just to try.
Food comes out quickly and looks amazing. Rob’s chicken is a large half, generously sauced with a sweet BBQ sauce. He applies some of the house-made hot sauce and sings its praises.
My heaping serving of moist, flavourful pork, comes with cassava, a starchy, bland, gluey, root vegetable, a staple in a good part of the world, which may substitute for a potato but has way less flavour. Both the pork and the cassava are covered in under-fried (in a good way) garlicky onions that provide a nice texture and mild bite. Cassava serves to fill hungry bellies and I don’t really care for it so it gets left. The tamale, made with fine masa flour, has great corn taste and the lightly sweet, cumin scented tomato sauce coating makes for a delicious accompaniment to the roast pork.
The side of shared croquetta are also well made and tasty. Darkly crisp, just shy of burnt, they are filled with smoky ham and potato.