Category Archives: Tampa

Stalking the Wild Cubano


The Cuban sandwich is important. People fight for it and about it. Who created it and where? That is just the tip  of the loaf. My take? The Cuban sandwich is ubiquitous and no one will ever know its exact origin. Mystery is as beautiful as a slice of pink ham.

Were I a betting woman, and I am, for tiny bits of currency, my money would be, and is, on Tampa. Bet ya a nickel. Tampa is big though and pinpointing seems impossible.

The following are Cuban sandwich rantings, ravings, hurrahings and revelings. No answers and plenty of questions. 

“Miami was not even spit in the eye when Tampa was doing business with Havana,” Manteiga said. I believe it. Read and chose your conclusions here.

Meanwhile, if you are eating in Tampa and reaching for roots, the Cuban sandwich is the linchpin.

We sat at the Manteiga family’s private table, on ornately carved wooden chairs, in a corner of La Tropicana Cafe, which for decades has been a gathering place on Seventh Avenue for Ybor City’s immigrant community. Over a lunch of Spanish bean soup, Cuban sandwiches and deviled crab (a dish created by striking cigar factory workers in the 1920s), we chatted a bit about Tampa foodways and its ultimate fusion dish, crab chilau — blue-crab meat in a spicy enchilada sauce, often served over spaghetti — which perfectly represents Ybor City’s cultural mix. But mostly we talked history. More here.

Recently I had the good fortune to visit the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Florida. FullSizeRenderThe Columbia is legendary and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about – a venture into another world, through a rabbit hole or trick door indeed. Columbia5

Also, I wanted to eat a Cubano in the city that claims to be its originator. One of the cities, I should say.


Talk of the Cubano elicits heated debate from all camps –  I have witnessed debates, and endless rabbit holes. The bread alone is google-maps-worthy. More on that later.

Columbia6Place of origin, salami or no salami, who bakes the proper bread, butter before pressing or not, exact ham, how manypic and…did I mention place of origin?Columbia3

I’ve been down this tunnel before and it’s no less twisty this time. Posts on Cubanos here and here and here and here and here, the first from ten years ago at the birth of The Lunch Encounter. Nevertheless, I am taking a stab at parsing the particulars, plain and simple. Here we go!

According to Clarissa Buch of Thrillist

In the mid-1800s, the Cuban tobacco industry emerged in Florida, where it first emerged in Key West. Later, tobacco moved north to Tampa, with thousands relocating to Ybor City — a historic neighborhood founded by cigar manufacturers with Cuban, Spanish, and Italian descent. Because of the influx of immigrants who mainly worked in factories, a quick, affordable lunch was yearned for. This marked the rise of the Cuban sandwich.

“Above all, you need a moist palmetto leaf on top of the dough before it’s baked,” says David Leon of La Segunda Central Bakery, the largest producer of Cuban bread in Tampa. “The dough rises and wraps around the leaf, giving the bread flavor.”

Family-owned La Segunda Central Bakery, which has been around for more than 100 years, chops nearly 60,000 leaves by hand each day, making about 18,000 loaves which are used in Tampa and shipped across the country, including Miami. “Ninety percent of the work is done by hand,” says Leon. “It’s a very old-school process. Using the leaf is what creates those peaks and valleys that Cuban bread is known for.”

After the bread is made, the ingredients are placed inside. The roast pork, says Astorquiza, must be marinated in mojo, which blends spices like bitter orange, oregano, cumin, garlic, onion, vinegar, and salt. The best way to do it, he says, is to marinate the pork overnight. The cheese must be Swiss, and if salami is used, it should be Genoa. If you’re extremely particular, make sure to use exactly three pickles. And, whatever you do, only use sweet cured ham (or something similar to it) because it’s crucial to not overpower the other ingredients’ flavors. Don’t forget mustard… and sometimes butter depending on where you’re eating.

Read more here.

Bread – crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, wider and flatter than a baguette, not nearly as hard a crust, the bread at Versailles in Miami has a little lard in its recipe and is “basically a pan de agua” – Puerto Rican water bread

Ham – mojo marinated, “sweet ham”

Pickles – dills sliced thinly lengthwise

Pork – loin or shoulder

Cheese – imported Swiss – why imported?

Salami – Genoa, peppercorn-studded preferred (Columbia Restaurant)

Mustard – yellow

Butter – butter the outside of the bread generously before pressing

Mauricio Faedo’s Bakery

The Columbia Restaurant’s recipe here. It does include salami and bread from La Segunda Central Bakery. The recipe headnote includes mention of a “smashed Cuban”, which is what you might expect, a heavily pressed sandwich.

The Columbia’s Pork Loin

Roast Cuban Pork:
1 each Fresh Pork shoulder (about 5 lbs.)
1 cup Sour Orange Juice (if not available, ½ cup lime juice and ½ cup orange juice)
8 each Large garlic cloves
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
4 each bay leaves

The Cuban Sandwich at Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana recipe here on Eater Elements.

Next time I am in Tampa I want to try La Teresita, but that will have to be after another visit to La Columbia. The place is huge, man, and I want to trip up and down every staircase, gaze into each mirror, wish on the individual tiles.

UPDATE! I have been to the Columbia again and to Segundo Bakery. So exciting! Posts to come. PTK. Hurrah! Hooray! Booyah!



And the Beat Goes On

Is there life after Thanksgiving? Yes there is! Yes there is!

CBS Sunday Morning will be happy to assist your assimilation back into daily life. One cannot eat a Cuban sandwich too often.

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After your house guests have fatigued of turkey next week, you need another culinary trick up your sleeve. Tune in to CBS News Sunday Morning at 9 a.m. Sunday to get the inside scoop on how to make the perfect Tampa-style Cuban sandwich.Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.27.07 AM

 Correspondent Susan Spencer stopped into the 110-year-old Columbia in Ybor City recently to get a tutorial from fifth-generation owner Andrea Gonzmart Williams and her dad, Richard Gonzmart.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 10.27.34 AMRead on here.

Thank you, Kathleen Walston Pagan, for the tip. Tampa’s got the goods when it comes to a Cubano.


Tampa Was Making Cuban Sengwiches When Miami Was Little More than Alligators.

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Lettuce and tomato on a Cuban sandwich?

Tampa politics doesn’t have much that could qualify as a purity test, but this might be it.

So when voter Danny Thro got a campaign mailer from City Council member Mike Suarez that had a picture of a Cuban with lettuce and tomato, he paused.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 6.22.51 PM“I’m a vegetarian and imagine a Cuban sandwich to be my weak spot if I ever go back to eating meat,” Thro said Monday in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “Maybe that’s why I looked so closely.”

Such is the place of the Cuban in Tampa. So Thro initiated this email exchange with Suarez:

Mike Suarez above

Voter Danny Thro: what kind of sandwich is this in yr ad?
City Council Member Running for Re-election Suarez: A Cuban Sandwich, of course.
Thro: I think I see lettuce and tomato…where’s the pickle? (I don’t think Steve Otto would approve). I might add that i received 5 ads in today’s mail and you are the only candidate to include contact info. that’s a good thing. thanks. and good luck,
Suarez: I appreciate the good luck but I hope I’ve earned your vote.

Read on here to discover the authentic linchpin of a Cuban.

Mr. Walston, the fabulous bf, is from St. Petersburg, his mother from Tampa. He’s got strong feelings about the Cuban and I believe his stand is ubiquitous in those parts. “As you heard, people take this stuff seriously,” he stated. As they well should.

For his friends, the bread is the line in the sand. At a recent Cuban throw down in Tampa,Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 6.27.38 PM hosted by Mr. Walston’s near lifelong Floridian friends, the loaves of La Segunda Central Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 6.26.37 PM
faced off with those baked by Mauricio Faedo’s Bakery. Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 7.11.14 PM  Salami, ham, pork, cheese, two kinds of pickles – another divisive element, sweet or dill,  plus mustard – also two choices, yellow or brown, making me sweat with equivocation. We were more lenient than most, by all accounts, no hardliners in our mix.

My son declared La Segunda the winner. I could not have my arm twisted into an allegiance. A Cuban, well- toasted, is always a superlative sengwich by me.

Should you want to bone up on the Cubano, excellent coverage in Saveur Magazine here.

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Souvenir bread bag from the throw down. The bread is a long gone daddy.

The Best Laid Sandwiches

 April 21, 2012
Two cities, Tampa and Miami, are locked in a battle to claim the Cuban sandwich as its own.
april 25, 2012
And the winner is….

After an admirable effort by the upstart Miami Cuban community, the people have chosen Tampa as the true home of the Cuban sandwich.

Isn’t all food in flux,  like the river of time? It’s never 1:05 or 2:17 or any other o’clock. Time is always on its way to somewhere else. Becoming 1:06 or 2:18. Can something be the best? Is that a static state? Nah. Not in an ever changing world. Superlatives, claims, titles and best ofs exist to be knocked back, do they not? Life is tippy at the pinnacle. Hell, in high school you would not catch me being first flute. No place to go but down. Who wants to be the best?, she said, spoken like a true underachiever.

Any Cuban, bad, good or mediocre is bound to be pretty darn good. Who makes a Cuban other than someone who likes a Cuban? And doesn’t the simple intent invest the sandwich with grandness?

So many questions.

All doled with a grain of salt considering I am a suspicious person due to my personal pedagogical method.