In the latest chapter of our search for the perfect Cuban sandwich, me and Linds decided to put former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s contention that all politics is local to the test. So for those of you who don’t have the stomach for political discussions, by all means keep reading. Because our politics is tasty and we don’t shut down when chowing down is so much more constructive.
Lancaster, Pa has some seriously good eats. But don’t take my word for it, ask Alton Brown. The Food Network host who has an honorary doctorate in the field of tasty science is a frequent visitor to our town’s dining establishments because he knows a good thing when he tastes it. His scientific filibusters inspired us to stay local for this entry.
The town- dubbed Lancashire whilst under English rule- is a cobblestoned walk through our nation’s history. Notable residents include President James Buchanan, inventor Robert Fulton and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. The Continental Congress set up shop in Lancaster after the British invaded Philadelphia, and the town actually served as the nation’s capitol for a single day. George Washington slept here, Ben Franklin drank here, Thomas Paine wrote here and John Adams formulated his vision of America’s future while doing all of the above.
Lancaster is home to Lancaster Central Market– established in 1730, it is the oldest farmers market in the United States. I’ve caught revolutionary fever a time or two on Market mornings, after which I load up on supplies for my Cubano and get to stepping on the home made remedy. It’s the only time Fidel Castro can be mentioned in democratic company.
551 West is the kind of place that makes Tuesday nights feel like prime real estate. You walk in the door to a chatty buzz, moody lighting and a wraparound bar that drinks you in before you can return the favor. There’s a sublime resonance to joints such as this one, where you can learn a neighborhood inside a single visit.
We behaved very much like politicians negotiating back room deals with porcine intentions- a rolling boil of loud, obnoxious swear words whose profits increased with each new round of friendly beverages. In order to circumvent the acid bath of our adult beverages, we started off the festivities with some artichoke and spinach dip, because we are professionals at this sort of thing. The tortilla chips were warm and crunchy and the dip was creamy goodness with a savory finish. As far as first amendments go, you can’t do much better than friendly drinks and tasty bites.
Ordering became a subject of some debate. I suggested that perhaps we should order different plates and then halve things, in the event this Cubano didn’t rock our casbah. But Linds was having none of it.
“Uh, we’re all in on this . . . we’re committed!” Linds proclaimed.
Far be it from me to disagree with such fine logic as this, especially after a few laps with Guinness. I’m pretty sure if Ben Franklin were still around, he would have done his best electric side in the affirmative.
The main event always feels like Christmas morning as we anticipate the unwrapping of our presents. Even though we know what we’re getting in theory, the practice to this particular sandwich’s construction can be quite unpredictable. And so it went with the 551’s version of the classic.
The blueprint went like this: Capicola, salami, pork and Swiss. The come together ingredients consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayo and mustard. It was served up on a well pressed hoagie with a side of french fries.
Now, the salami I get. It jibes with the history of the Cuban sammy, where salami was an erstwhile part of the creation until it moved state side. The capicola was another story. Pronounced gabagool by those of us who grew up in an Italian neighborhood, it is arguably the most sumptuous pork creation. Thing is, it doesn’t belong in a Cuban sandwich because really, you can’t have two kings in this court. I didn’t frown on the lettuce and tomato since I dig the color and crunch it lends. And the mustard/mayo blend was plenty fine. The hoagie was reminiscent of Philadelphia’s own (even though it wasn’t), and it was pressed. I am the biggest stickler when it comes to the pressing business of a Cuban sammy.
Linds and me were able to forge a consensus on the sammy vote without the need for a shut down, because unlike politics we ain’t got time for such nonsense. Not when the drinks are friendly and the company is hilarious. Our vote was unanimous . . . a 5.5 out of 10, The reason? We couldn’t figure out where the pork got to, which sounds pretty dang political, I admit.
I’d like to think our founding fathers would have been proud of our patriotic prowess. After all, they were all about life, liberty and the pursuit of frosty drinks. I mean . . happiness.