The Best Damn Sandwich in Town: Havana Cafe's Cuban 

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I have been avoiding writing this sandwich battle review for a while, because I just didn’t want the honeymoon phase to be over with my public celebration of Goose the Market’s Batali sandwich. This sandwich was suggested by one of our Facebook fans, and I took it on because out of all the potential challengers, I knew this one was the longest shot. Let me explain:

In short, I feel like the Cuban sandwich, no matter where you get it from, is kind of like a continuation of America and Cuba’s tense history. Just like old T-Birds rolling around the bumpy streets of Havana, so do seemingly ancient food traditions roll across Cuban menus stateside. The crusty white bread, square as June Cleaver’s apron, slicked up with traditional lard and pressed between two heavy, hot things until it’s crunchy on both sides.

The Cuban, traditionally, is a simple combination of roasted pork, ham, pickles, mustard, and swiss, which always seemed like a huge disappointment to me. I always wanted it to be more exotic than it was, all situated down there in the Caribbean, sharing water space with some of my favorite food cultures in the world. And yet, the Cuban, as an institution, is still fatty white bread, pork, and pickles.


But I love surprises, so I tackled this one first and opened myself up to the possibility that this would be the Cuban that changed the whole game.

It wasn’t.

Now! That’s not to say that it wasn’t really delicious, because it was. The roasted pork in the middle of the sandwich was, by far, the best-cooked pork that I’ve ever had in any Cuban before. They also didn’t overload on the acidic condiments, so you really get to taste the care that was put into preparing the pork. Also, their bread wasn’t soggy or wet with meat juice, which is another one of my frequent complaints about the Cuban.

Secondly, I really liked that the bread was quite a departure from the extra-greasy, dense, fat-slathered toast that is sometimes what Cuban bread turns into in the plancha (sandwich press). Instead, Havana Cafe’s bread was still fluffy on the inside with an airy crunch on the outside.

And yet none of this distracts from the fact that it’s goddamned roasted pork, ham, mustard, and some other utterly pedestrian shit on white bread made with lard. I’ll say it again: whoop-dee-freakin-doo.

Want to know another dirty secret about the Cuban? The sandwich we know today was really perfected and tweaked in Tampa, Florida. In fact, it’s the “Official Sandwich of Tampa and Ybor City.” (If you’re unfamiliar, Ybor City is basically the Broad Ripple strip on steroids, 7 days a week, replete with stupefied co-eds and really tight Tapout shirts.) So it makes sense that the Cuban sandwich, city sandwich of Tampa, would promise exoticism and deliver a mouthful of things you’ve had before, like the great state of Florida often does.
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It’s not Havana Cafe’s fault that we took something amazing and Florida-ized it with our pickles and mustard and swiss. Imagine how good that pork would taste with some marinated, fried plantains on it instead of stupid pickles. Fried in avocado butter instead of lard. What if we hadn’t horsed this potential natural beauty up with a thick layer of common kitchen Cover Girl? We should all be ashamed. 

So, fine, yes: if you’re going to eat a Cuban, get one from Havana Cafe, if Cubans are your thing. It was a bit too heavy for me to finish, but one half of a Cuban is really all the dense calories you need for midday. I pawned the second half over to NUVO’s head of production, Dave Windisch, a Cuban connoisseur himself. He enjoyed the sandwich, devouring the block of meat and lard in a few minutes with a confident nod as he downed the last bite. “Good,” he said, “Very good.”

But is it better than the Batali? If you couldn’t already tell, my answer is no. It’s all the calories and half the fun. It’s delicious in its own right, but I’m looking for the total package: bread, meats, condiments, and veggies. The Havana Cafe Cuban just didn’t deliver.

Got a challenger for the Great Indy Sandwich Battle? Leave it in the comments or tweet me: @likesquirrel317


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Sarah Murrell

Sarah Murrell

Sarah Murrell covers all things food, beverages and sometimes gives decent sex and relationship advice. You can stream her consciousness on Twitter, if that's where life has brought you.

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