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Sink teeth into quest for best Cuban sandwich

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EY WEST

Sink teeth into quest for best Cuban sandwich

http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/15/v-fu...t-for-best.html

BY FRAN GOLDEN

Special to The Miami Herald

Biting into a crispy Cuban sandwich filled with juicy pork is a must-do in Key West right up there with strolling on funky Duval Street and watching a glorious sunset from the pier at Mallory Square.

While locals will opine until that sun goes down about who has the best Cuban in the Conch Republic, the front-runners are clearly Sandy's, a kiosk in a laundromat, and a neighborhood grocery store called 5 Brothers.

A pal and I came to Key West to put Cuban sandwiches to the test, but first some history.

If the sandwiches didn't arrive with the first wave of émigrés from Cuba more than 175 years ago, they were certainly a fixture in Key West by the time those fleeing Spanish rule formed communities around cigar-manufacturing factories in the 1860s, says historian Loy Glenn Westfall, author of several books on Cuban cigars. The sandwiches were a favorite cigar worker lunch.

While most of the cigar factories and workers moved on to Ybor City in Tampa after a devastating fire in Key West in 1886, a taste of the culture remained.

``A Cuban sandwich was born in Cuba and educated in Key West,'' says Westfall.

The Key West ``Cuban mix'' or ``mixto'' found today is a hybrid, and ``all the way'' is the preferred version.

The ingredients are roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce (typically shredded), tomato, mustard, mayonnaise, dill pickles and often salami.

These are layered sub-style on buttered Cuban white bread, which is then pressed with an iron known as a plancha.

The pressing part, we would learn in our pork sandwich quest, is important. It should be just enough so the meat fuses but doesn't lose its juices, the cheese slightly melts, the bread gets crispy but not too crunchy, and you know the condiments are there but they don't ooze out the side.

The bread is important, too. The last Cuban bakery in Key West closed two years ago, but two bakeries -- Cole's Peace Artisan Bakery and Croissants de France -- have taken up the slack, providing bread for local restaurants and grocery stores.

Richard Tallmadge, who owns Cole's Peace with his wife, Cathy, says he was forced into the Cuban bread business by conchs wanting an authentic offering. ``The bread has to be made fresh daily. It has to have salt and pork lard,'' he says.

Making it, especially in a stone oven, ``is a pain,'' he adds.

As for the sandwiches, historian Westfall, a part-time resident since 1971, is a big fan of the laundry kiosk's version.

``Anyone who comes to Key West, if they don't go to Sandy's they don't know what Key West is all about,'' Westfall says.

We decided to see for ourselves. Here are our findings.

• Sandy's Café at M&M Laundry: My guy pal declared the Cuban mix here, ``damn near perfect.'' Sandy's, at the M&M Laundry, is the top pick in the Conch Republic. You can order from inside the laundry or from the street. Fernando Caceres, who has owned Sandy's for 16 years, hails from Merida, Mexico, and uses bread from Croissants de France. What makes the sandwich so yummy is the generous helping of meat -- pork marinated in lime juice, salt, pepper, garlic, garlic powder and cumin, and ham that Caceres boils in a combination of cola and Jupiña (pineapple soda). He says he's happy to meet customer requests. ``The people in Key West are different. Some like it hotter, some like it cold in the middle'' he says. In addition to sandwiches, we enjoyed chatting with locals of all ages hanging around the kiosk's outdoor stools.

Details: 1026 White St., 305-295-0159. Open 24 hours. Cuban Mix, $7, with fries.

• 5 Brothers Grocery & Sandwich Shop: 5 Brothers was, in fact, started by five brothers from Cuba and has been a Key West fixture for decades. It's your quintessential family grocery store, with Cuban sandwiches and Cuban coffee the calling cards. Owner Pepe Paez, son of one of the brothers, says the shop sells hundreds of Cuban sandwiches each week, for breakfast and lunch. Bread is from Cole's Peace, with a nice crunch. The pork is the ``traditional'' marinated variety. ``Order with everything for a true mix,'' Paez says. You can eat your treat on benches, where you'll likely find locals indulging in the delicious sandwiches even at breakfast time. The shop also does a Media Noche sandwich that's akin to a Miami Cuban, but on sweeter bread.

Details: 930 Southard St., 305-296-5205; http://5brothersgrocery.tripod.com . Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cuban Mix, $5.75.

• El Meson de Pepe: For a sit-down experience, this family-owned Cuban restaurant, opened in 1984 in a historic building in Mallory Square, is tops. Chef Pepe Diaz, who left Cuba and worked in Madrid and Miami before coming here, named his sandwich ``Cayo Hueso Cuban Mix'' (a reference to the original Spanish name for Key West). It comes on bread from Cole's Peace. As a special touch, Diaz adds a little garlic on top before pressing. He says he roasts the pork and bakes the sugar-glazed ham every day. While the tasty sandwiches are a top-seller, Diaz opines a ``real Cuban sandwich'' should be ordered without the lettuce or tomato and focus instead on the meat, which is in generous supply in his version. You can eat indoors or out at the restaurant, which also has a full menu of other Cuban dishes and a large collection of Cuban and Key West memorabilia on display.

Details: 410 Wall St. at Mallory Square, 305-295-2620; www.elmesondepepe.com . Open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily. Cayo Hueso Cuban Mix, $9.95 (with choice of French fries or plantain chips).

• El Siboney: This casual, neighborhood Cuban restaurant has offered the same menu and recipes since 1982. Owner for five years, Julio De la Cruz, is from the Dominican Republic, and says a good Cuban is all in the bread, which he gets from Croissants de France. For the Cuban Mix, he roasts the pork ``BBQ style'' and adds smoked salami along with ham. De la Cruz, who previously lived in New York and Miami, says his staff plans for about 60 sandwiches a day, mostly sold to locals, and they are usually gone by 3 p.m. He's a fan himself. ``I eat the sandwiches pretty much three times a week,'' he says. As good as the sandwiches are here, the real thing not to miss on the menu is the delicious pollo asado (roasted chicken).

Details: 900 Catherine St., 305-296-4184; www.elsiboneyrestaurant.com. Open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily. Cuban Mix, $5.75.

The Miami Herald

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/08/15/v-fu...l#ixzz0wiOCt1gi

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Colt45   

I've been to El Siboney and Pepe's a number of times (been to Mallory Square but not El Meson De Pepe), and another diner style place on

Duval I can't remember the name of (a great Cuban sandwich there). Overall, I'll take El Siboney.

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Loki   

Nice read. I'm lucky enough to have Martinos 10 minutes from my house. Martino took part in the failed Bay Of Pigs and ended up in prison.

Guess who's side he was on. Upon release he emmigrated to the US. He is an interesting man, having been a dance champ in cuba amongst other things. He runs a good place and the Cuban Sandwich is killer, not a mix just straight up pressed sandwich.

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OZCUBAN   

Never had the privilege,but nonetheless they sound absolutely scrumptious :D

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rdb6   

The best Cubano is Garrard Ave. in the Bronx, New York. A little sandwich shop off the main drag. I guess you would call it a dive.

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CUBANO   

Going to Key West in 3 Weeks, will try one at Sandy's and 5 Brothers.

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I would like to point out that the original "Cuban Sandwich" has been largely extinct in Cuba for 50 years :drool:

The "New" Cuban Sandwich is Ham and Cheese...minus the ham.

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Actually, the best "cubano sandwich" I've ever had was in Michigan, believe it or not. I mean, I've had some great ones in Florida, the Keys, or even up in South Carolina. But the best one I had was at a very unique little bar and grill called Waves, in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.

Top notch, best ever.

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BigGuns   

For those in socal - Porto's Bakery in Glandale makes an awesome Cuban sandwich. However, I prefer the medianoche. At the moment I do not recall the difference, but both are excellent. Served with platanos chips.

Any others to know about on the West Coast, or do we all have to go to sofla????

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gmoney   

Little Havanna Sandwhich Shop until in burned down in Atlanta.... Coco Loco's also in Atlanta has a very good one as well.

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Miami is still the king of the Cuban sandwich. I suggest "Latin America" makes the best. Its a restaurant with several locations in Miami. I defy anyone to try it and not say its the best. Their sandwich Miami is also very good.

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