Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cuban Breezes

In Chicago, we're used to being able to find a hot dog stand or Italian beef joint on just about every other corner.  The nearest Tampa equivalent is the Cuban restaurant, which, while not exactly ubiquitous, is frequent enough down here that you can eat ropa vieja (shredded skirt steak in tomato sauce) or lechon asado (pulled pork in mojo sauce) every meal if that's your jam.  There happens to be such a restaurant called Cuban Breezes located within a 10-minute drive of the Canteen - I first saw it when stopping in for halo halo ice cream at my favorite local Philippine grocery (it's in the same strip mall) and made a mental note to stop in for lunch one day.  Several months passed and I finally got the chance to drop in on a random Friday.  I was initially surprised to see that it wasn't simply a take-out counter, rather a small restaurant masquerading as a Florida State sports bar.  They seem to get a healthy lunchtime crowd from nearby businesses - I was fortunate enough to get a booth before most of the seating filled up.  The menu contains an enticing mix of traditional Cuban standbys (such as the frita cubana, a burger made from both beef and chorizo) and a few odder-looking items (such as a turkey cuban sandwich, something I suspect you'd have trouble finding in Cuba).  I ended up ordering a papa rellena (a deep-fried potato ball stuffed with seasoned ground beef) for starters and a pan con lechon (roast pork sandwich with onions and guava bbq sauce) with black beans/rice to go with it.  My opinion of both dishes was similar - the papa rellena alternated between tasty bites and those that seemed a bit freezer-burned (the house "Havana sauce", a sort-of cross between mayo and ranch dressing that gets provided with just about every dish, didn't really help much), while the sandwich had a Sloppy Joe quality to it that wasn't entirely pleasant.  I had the chance to make a return visit the following week when I met up with some Cub Scout leaders for a planning lunch and opted for the traditional Cuban sandwich this time.  While decent, the house Cuban somewhat paled in comparison to my favorite version in town (the one from El Truck Del Rincon Criollo) and was actually diminished by the side plate of tostones (smashed fried plantain patties with garlic) I tried, which were on the dry side.  Clearly, there's enough other quality Cuban food in the Tampa Bay area that I can pass over Cuban Breezes next time unless I'm watching a Seminoles game...

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