Tag Archives: Cuban

Viva la Cuban!

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.

IMG_3058 (8 of 8)Sandy’s features outside only seating. We find a pleasant spot against the building under an awning where we can watch the world go by under an already scorching sun.

IMG_3443 (4 of 8)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.

IMG_3442 (5 of 8)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.

IMG_3449 (1 of 8)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.

IMG_3439 (6 of 8)Off to explore Higgs Beach and the Key West Garden Club at the West Martello Fort Tower. Already too hot to wander and take pics like I like to. I’ll save that for an early morning before we leave.

IMG_3468 (3 of 3)IMG_3478 (2 of 3)After a long day in the hot sun relaxing and swimming at the Inn, we are up for some more Cuban food, something that really does not exist in Ottawa.

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.

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I order a “Cuban Style” Hatuey beer, made in the USA. It is thin and bitter, not my preference but drinkable.

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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.

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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.IMG_3064 (3 of 5)

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.

IMG_3065 (4 of 5)Overall a cheap and very satisfying homemade meal.


Lunch at Butcher

it’s a cloudy, muggy day in the Big Easy. The forecast threatened rain at any time, but has held off for the most part. We decide to go a little further afield and change it up a little from the New Orleans cuisine we’ve been exploring up until now.

We head to Butcher. It’s an annex of sort to Cochon, a very popular snout-to-tail place that’s getting terrific reviews and is showing up on lists of top new places to try in NOLA. Butcher is around the corner and is its more casual cousin. It’s open from 10AM to 10PM, but it being Friday, we want to get there before the workday lunch crowd and arrive in time to score a parking space right in front and a prime window table.

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Inside, it really is a butcher shop, selling home-made sausages, prepared foods and sauces as well as artfully butchered cuts of pork and beef. At the back of the shop there is a set of 3 blackboard panels with today’s menus — small plates, sandwiches and beverages (it has a full bar). The decor is industrial chic with simple surfaces and raised tables and stools.

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We order a number of items to split — from the small plates menu, some spicy brisket sliders, potato salad, boudin sausage with pickles and grainy mustard and a mac and cheese with pancetta. From the sandwich menu we order a Cubano to split — a pressed Cuban sandwich. We’re given a table marker (Dr. Morgus from the 1962 sci-fi classic, “The Wacky World of Dr. Morgus“, and in two blinks our food arrives.  Here’s a run down of each dish:

The Brisket Sliders – Sweet with a BBQ sauce but rich and meaty. Perfect brisket and complimented by sweet pickles and a soft bakery slider bun. These are outstanding.

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The Potato Salad – Nice, creamy with celery, chives and a little heat from hot sauce.

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The Boudin Sausage – It was white boudin, made with rice, pork, liver and spices. Perfect with the pickle and mustard. Maureen’s not a huge fan of liver, so I had this all to myself, as if it wasn’t planned that way. It was rich, mildly spiced and the strong grainy mustard and pickle worked well with it. Butcher knows about pickles and how to use them. I counted three different kinds among our dishes.

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The Mac and Cheese — Creamy and tangy. Maureen and I though it was possible that pimento cheese was used in the recipe because it had that colour and tang.

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The Cubano – Although the bread wasn’t classic Cubano fare, it had a less chewy texture, but it was flat and crisp from the pressing and was great anyway. The roasted pork and ham on the sandwich were very flavourful and carried the day.

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We picked up some of the jarred delicacies that Butcher sells to bring home and headed out for a day of exploring. Maureen was going to walk around and take some photos of the gardens, alleys and oddities of the French Quarter and I was bound for a little guitar shopping.

Miami Beach: Latin Heat

Sauntering through customs at Ottawa International on a February Sunday, we were excited to be heading south for some much needed vitamin D. And Cuban food. Rob and I know little or nothing of Cuban cuisine. The American official asked our business in Miami. We told him we were looking for some sun and some Cuban food. “I’m Cuban! “ he says. “Make sure you have a midnight sandwich! It’s the best. Addictive.”. His eyes got a far away look and you could tell Ottawa in February was a hardship post. Even if you are from here. Especially if you are Cuban.

Miami Beach at Dusk

South Beach is a cool enclave of Miami, right on the ocean. Unfortunately you can see little of the ocean from the dining areas and cafes. Even rooftop bars offer little view in the historic Art Deco area where we made our home for seven days. Ocean Boulevard is lined with quaint cafes but the view to the water is obscured by dunes. Other areas of the beach have their frontage taken up by resorts and the ocean is only available for viewing by their guests. You could walk to the water easily, but we found you were not able to sit and enjoy a beer and watch the waves unless you drove to the Keys or Fort Lauderdale. South Beach offers good shopping in the historic district and dozens of street side restaurants offering excellent fare from a variety of cuisines.

Puerto Sagua – Iconic Cuban Joint

Cuban food was our first priority. Just down the road a bit from where we were staying, was an iconic Cuban establishment, Puerto Sagua. We headed over for lunch. The buzz on this joint was that the food was authentic and the place was crusty and a bit rough around the edges and proud of it.

We were seated immediately and brought plastic tumblers of ice water. As we perused the menu, Rob noticed a dark object in his water: an expired cucaracha. What to do? We had not ordered yet. Decision time. We are here, and probably a cockroach never killed any one, probably. Blind-eye time. Let’s go for it. Rob asked the waitress for a fresh glass of water, pointing out the cockroach. She was horrified and a very good actress, because I would put money on this not being the first she had seen…that day even.

We had to order a few classics we were curious about including a midnight sandwich (medianoche) named for its role in many a late-night snack, ham croquettes, and tostones with garlic mojo, to round out our first Cuban experience.

The ham croquettes arrived first, hot, crisp and well made. Not greasy. The croquettes, made of minced smoked ham, onion, nutmeg, parsley and rolled in bread crumbs before deep frying, were excellent dipped in hot sauce.

Tostones are green plantains that are twice fried. After the first frying, they are squashed flat and refried. They are served with a thin, tasty, garlic mojo. The sauce has good flavour but the tostones themselves are extremely bland.

Tostones and Mojo
Croquettes and Hot Sauce

The star of this lunch arrived next. The famous Cuban sandwich. Basically a ham and cheese sandwich, the Cuban is served on a long, toasty egg bun. Spread with yellow mustard, layers of ham, roast pork and cheese, and finally pickles complete the ensemble. Don’t get me wrong. This is a good sandwich. The bun is warm, chewy and eggy, ham and cheese is a classic combo, and the mustard and pickle are a simple but excellent accompaniment. Would really hit the spot as a late night snack or light lunch. But I’m not sure it is anything that would make me desperately home sick or be the first thing I would want to tell a visitor to my culture “This is it. This defines us. If you have nothing else, have this.”


It seems we chose poorly. On a trek to the washrooms in the rear, I passed diners who were eating amazing looking food, mostly with large portions of shredded pork. Cuban food deserves more investigation.

If you have followed us on our journeys before, you know we are big fans of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, (Triple D) with Guy Fieri. On this trip we headed into Little Havana to a place recently featured on Triple D, La Camaronera. It is in a working class neighborhood and was packed with diners belly up to the counter where you ordered and ate standing up. Service is fast and friendly. Again we are headed in for lunch.

La Cameronera – Fried Seafood Goodness!

Both Rob and I were excited to try their feature fish sandwich, a lightly breaded, deep fried yellow tail snapper, dressed and served tail on in a soft bun. As well as being attractively presented, the lightness of the batter allows the freshness of the snapper to shine. The simple, soft white bun is a perfect choice to host the delectable piece of fish.

Fresh fish, chopped onion and ketchup.

To round out our all-fried meal, we had the fried lobster with with spicy remoulade sauce. They take fresh-caught spiny lobster (no claws, all tail meat), cut it in pieces, dip in ketchup (yes, really!) and then in a spiced flour mixture and deep fry. It is tangy and spicy but the sweet luscious lobster flavour shines through.

Lobster and remoulade.

Next: Miami, Part 2

All content and photography copyright (c) 2011 by Robert and Maureen Rose. All rights reserved.