Monday, March 11, 2013

Tampa Cuban Sandwich Shuffle

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-Eating the Cuban Sandwich in it's Natural Habitat

America loves it's sandwiches. Somehow Subway has locations wherever there's civilization but I'm not talking about that crap. Depending on where you're at they come in all sorts of great regional varieties. In Chicago we have the Italian Beef which is no doubt one of the best. In Philly they're known for cheesesteaks but the roast pork's and all others are great too. Then there's the deli's of New York City and all the great BBQ options down south, the Muffaletta's and Po' Boy's of NOLA and so on.

But one the best regional sandwich variations is the Cuban. Miami might tell you they have the best but it's Tampa where it was born as a lunch option for Cuban immigrants working the Cigar factories in Ybor City. What separates Tampa from Miami is the bread. It's also the reason you're not going to find an authentic one outside the Sunshine State. There's still good ones elsewhere but this is where they're king. I did my own little quest while in the Cigar City. Check it.
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West Tampa Sandwich Shop

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A locals favorite for the past 32 years

The first stop was one that came onto my radar this past election season. The POTUS stopped into this popular lunch and socializing spot in an old Cuban neighborhood not far from Ybor City. As mentioned this now entertainment district was where many of the old cigar factories the Cuban immigrants of Tampa used to work at. Popular debate topics here the past three decades have been what Cubans are passionate about, baseball and politics. Though most everyone here agrees on the food. When I stopped in on a Fri. for lunch the place was popping with regulars having espresso and sandwiches. They only have two presses so when it gets busy the wait can be a little while. Call ahead if in a rush.

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The ladies behind the counter were hard at work on my visit

When the President visited he ordered ropa viejo and Honey Cuban sandwiches for his crew. I wish I could of further explored the menu but I was on a mission and needed room in my appetite for the other shops. I ended up getting their specialty of the house, a Honey Cuban sandwich which is a regular Cuban pressed with drizzled honey on the bread. This was my companions 2nd and very close to 1st favorite of the places we tried. I thoroughly enjoyed it with the enhancement of the warm honey. It makes for a good breakfast.

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Honey Cuban Sandwich
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La Segunda Central Bakery

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Supplying fresh baked Cuban bread to Tampa since 1915

Not far from our first stop you'll find this bakery and Tampa institution. They still hand bake their original recipe Cuban bread around the clock. On top of their most popular item which is their bread they also have all sorts of baked sweets and a couple of sweeties working behind the counter if I may say so myself. You can order treats from those working the cases and then there's a separate station for sandwiches.

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A peak inside

One thing to take note of in Tampa is some places include everything as far as condiments go to be mayo, mustard, pickles, lettuce, tomato and onion. Most places also will ask if you want your sandwich hot or cold. So be sure to tell them you only want the cheese, pickles, mustard and maybe a little mayo if you must. Don't mind the salami, that's traditional in these parts due to Tampa's heavy Italian population who along with the Cubans settled here. The salami doesn't do anything to hurt the sandwich, it only helps. Obviously the bread was the star here and the sandwich was great because of it. It could of been a little warmer inside.

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Cuban Sandwich from the source for the best Cuban bread in the states
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Brocato's Sandwich Shop

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Since 1948: A Tampa Tradition

I spent my first year of college down in Tampa at UT and this was me a couple of my buddies go to spot for a huge filling sandwich. Just like back when this place is still packed to the brim during lunchtime. It's a pretty large space with an outdoor area and they have quite a few folks making sandwiches while their famous Devil Crabs are made for you to see in their own public kitchen. These are another regional treat of Tampa.

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What is it?

I always loved the Devil Crabs which is a great mixture of flavors. Chopped onions, red peppers, crab claw meat is lightly mixed with marinara and Worcestershire sauce and fried in huge oversize croquettes. These treats have influence from the cigar factory workers of Cuba, Spain and Italy. Brocato's always had the best. They have a special that will get you any 6" sandwich and a Devil Crab for $13 which is the way to go. As far as sandwiches they have quite a few including their popular Italian and also a meatball and cheese steak.

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A peak inside Tampa's not as famous regional eat

Back then it wash either a Cuban or their roast pork straight up for me. Its the pork that makes this sandwich. One somewhat disappointing aspect of most Cubans I had all over Florida this past trip was the fact most used cheap old deli ham. It makes me further appreciate Cafecito for their use of quality ham. Although the pork at all these places is pretty great and Brocato's is the best. It's the Al's beef of Cubans in Tampa. A unique take on it.

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Cuban Sandwich
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The Floridian

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Located in a little strip mall, recommended thru a Tampa foodie on Twitter

Not to be confused by the historic Floridan Hotel which is also in town, the Floridian is a newer sandwich shop with the aim of going chain. As for now the original location is on Kennedy Blvd and they claim to serve the "Finest Cuban Sandwiches on the Planet". The bread as La Segunda's website points out comes from there and overall the perfectly pressed sandwich really worked but again the quality of the ham was somewhat lacking. Although I'm guessing this is how locals like it. I still very much liked it myself. I got rec'd this place by @carloseats on Twitter. Nice option to have.

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Cuban Sandwich
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Wright's Gourmet

I never made it to Wright's when I was in Tampa but had I it would of been my spot. This is an old school deli where you walk in and wait in line until the sandwich makers call you up. You then order from the sandwich menu or the display case with potato salads and other such sides as well as their famous desserts and pay after its all made and placed on your tray.

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Since 1963, Tampa's Premiere Deli Cafe

I tried their famous "Beef Martini" sandwich at the airport en route home but the star here is their Cuban. Both me and her declared it easily the best on this trip. It's made with La Segunda bread, and in addition to some great sliced roasted pork, ham and salami they add a slice of turkey and use Jarlsberg cheese. A perfectly balanced sandwich. I'd love to try some of their other offerings. Although I'll never get enough Cuban's in my diet. See y'all next time @chibbqking.

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The 6 Time Winner of the Tampa Tribune's Best Cuban Sandwich in the city contest
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West Tampa Sandwich Shop
3904 North Armenia Avenue
Tampa, FL 33607
(813) 873-7104

La Segunda Central Bakery
2512 North 15th Street
Tampa, FL 33605
(813) 248-1531

Brocato's Sandwich Shop
5021 East Columbus Drive
Tampa, FL 33619
(813) 248-9977

The Floridian
4424 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33609
(813) 287-6662

Wright's Gourmet Cafe
1200 South Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa, FL 33629
(813) 253-3838

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