Running the “Philly Special” in our Search for the perfect Cuban sandwich

 

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With apologies to W.C. Fields, it had to be Philadelphia.

Over the last several months, our search for the perfect Cubano saw me and Linds B make our way through a solidly righteous collection of foodie towns from Harrisburg and Reading to Lancaster and Elizabethtown. But when we decided it was high time to get back to it and finish this search, it had to be the biggest town in the commonwealth . . where football and food reign supreme.

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If you’re not from the state, you just don’t understand how unfair it is that Philly has been subject to typecasting more often than Will Smith (Shout out to West Philadelphia on that one . .). The real deal truth is that cheesesteaks are nothing more than a starting point. Because this town can hold its own with any city under the flag it made famous when it comes to offering up a wide array of culinary choices.

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Our first stop was Reading Terminal Market, where we ran into Joe Nicolosi, the head chef at DiNic’s Roast Pork. This city institution got some much deserved national cred when it was featured on an episode of Man vs. Food with Adam Richman, and shortly after that appearance it won the honor of “Best Sandwich in America”. (If you ain’t seen the MVF clip, you can find it here.) And so we had to go a few rounds with this heavyweight champion sammy: the roast pork with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe. After which I cursed the handsome devil who runs the kitchen for creating such a diabolically delicious piece of love that hurt so good and left us feeling as if maybe . . just maybe, our food run had peaked before the main event.

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After a quick Google search, we set our coordinates for Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar. It was a twenty minute walk to Old Town, during which time Linds and me talked about everything but sports. We strolled past Independence Hall, drank in the city sounds and made small talk with a cute little pixie by the name of Iris who dealt up some serious 411 on the ASPCA.

Cuba Libre

Finally . . we found ourselves in the clutches of sweet Libertad, and when we walked inside the place, it felt as if we’d navigated ninety miles worth of ocean trespass and had landed in the heart of old Habana. We were seated next to a staircase whose ascent might have leaned into stars of a long lost time when an island nation was the resort of choice for many Americans. The interior was an argumentative cascade of modern and classical architecture dressed in vibrant island colors.

And then it struck me as to what this little mission of ours had stood for from the get. Our search had been a humbly romantic nod to a time when patience and roots held sway and songs bred revolutions and islands swam on earnest tides. And so we kept to the charter by ordering up a couple of classic mojitos and El Cubano.

The open air setting worked backup to the pulsing beat of Latin classics that bounded off the walls while wicker fans provided a wonderfully percussive remedy for a couple of B-side travelers with the finish line in their sights. And then our server broke it all down with a plateful of artful prowess. Peels of crunchy plantain done up as if by Dali, with our perfect Cuban sammy selection doing the straight up salsa right in our faces.

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The Cuba Libre blueprint is an homage to where the Cubano first laid down roots in Ybor City, Florida: Sour orange marinated pork loin, Genoa salami, ham, provolone and Swiss with a yellow mustard-pickle relish. This rich and glorious past was brought to the present and pressed between a couple pieces of locally baked bread in such a way that the late, great Celia Cruz would’ve most certainly approved.

The Verdict

For the record? I’m pretty sad that our search has come to its conclusion because man . . . it was a time. Soooo, Imma take a moment before I give you the mostly predictable results.

Promised “Moment” . . .

Thank you for reading these installments. Really and truly . . thank you! We’ve made some great memories, had some great food and most of all we have enjoyed the feedback we have received on this via Facebook and WordPress, as well as our families and friends. And not to put one of those peeps on the spot, but Dale over at A Dalectable Life is gonna keep this tasty train going. You can check out her first installment here

I guess the only intrigue that remains is whether or not we gave Cuba Libre’s sammy a perfect score so here it is boys and girls . . .

The pork was succulent with tangy notes of decadence thrown in for good measure. The salami was a welcomed bit of spicy throwback to the original standard. The ham was sweet and savory, and the Swiss was a pelt of luscious melt with provolone rocking it in the new old fashioned way.  Even the yellow mustard-relish worked surprisingly well, helping to bring everything together. And when you press all these savory selections into a small boat of bread baked fresh in Philadelphia proper? It would seem a slam dunk certainty that we went all Bo Derek on this puppy.

Alas, we are notoriously tough graders and so we had to deduct for the provolone and the relish since they are newcomers, and thus . . . not original ingredients. But 9.5 out of 10 is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, it makes the Cuba Libre version our Search winner.

And it really did have to be Philadelphia. Because there’s a dignity that runs in stride with the brawny scrum of this town that gives it its unique flavor. From the moment you crash its gates, you understand the complicated history that goes into making anything that’s worth it.

So here’s to life, liberty and delicious pursuits.

Our search for the perfect Cuban sammy does the ‘Rumba’

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Sup homies! Linds B here. A very close human of mine, Ali Clark, took a lovely little trip to Florida for her graduation! Naturally with her being in a part of the U.S. that Marco and I likely will not travel to (for the Cuban sammy challenge at least), we had to ask her to snag a Cubano while she was down there. And of course, she delivered! Here is her review on her Floridian Cuban experience!

Hello all – I am very new to doing the Lord’s work, so I’ll be trying my best to live up to the Cubano-aficionado’s review standards.

While here in Naples I was told to seek out the best Cuban sandwich around, so I did what any person today would do and googled “best Cuban sandwich in Naples”, bringing me glowing reviews of Rumba Cuban Cafe. This cafe is a family owned business with two locations both with a 4.5 star rating and a slew of reviews, many boasting about THE BEST CUBAN SANDWICH IN NAPLES!!!!! So naturally this was the place to check out.

Rumba’s was only about 2 miles from my Airbnb so I hopped in the car and got the only parking space left in the lot. This place was PACKED. So much so that you couldn’t even go inside, and I got the last table outside (lucky me, right?). Within 5 minutes we had 4 different waitresses ask us what we wanted to drink – I was almost afraid I was going to end up with 4 beers. I was a little afraid at first because their FAMOUS CUBAN SANDWICH wasn’t even on the menu… but luckily it was still something I could order. I didn’t come a whole 2 miles to leave empty handed ya know.

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When this experience started to go sour was when the wait for food started to take pretty long, almost 45 minutes. Granted, there were a lot of people there but I was hoping that meant that my Cuban was going to be made with a lil extra love… but I’m not so sure about that.

Now – I’ve probably only ever had one other Cuban in my life so I could be COMPLETELY wrong here – but this was not a good one, despite being told seven times by staff how amazing it was going to be. I’m not sure if they’re trained for this or how every waitress found out I had ordered a Cuban, but every single one of them felt the need to comment on this fantastic journey I was about to embark on. Out comes my sandwich, placed in front of me as if it is a bar of solid gold (I’m really not kidding about that, it felt like I was sinning to even touch it) and it looked pretty mediocre. I’m willing to look past a not so great exterior, because it’s what’s on the inside that counts right?? Well, this was very lackluster in that department as well.

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For the first bite I was expecting an even amount of everything since it’s technically the middle of the sandwich, but all I was left with was a mouthful of dry pork. The bread was reminiscent of cardboard left out on a humid day – not much of a crunch, not completely soggy- it was a weird in between. The pork never got juicy even though the whole sandwich was dripping in grease, so no matter how long I chewed, it was still what I imagine the consistency of mulch is. And lastly, the cheese was nowhere near melty enough. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I love more than super melty cheese (well I guess there are a few things but that’s pretty high on the list).

The Verdict

Overall it WAS a Cuban sandwich, it DID have all of the necessary ingredients but it lost points for all of the above issues. Out of 10 this Cuban unfortunately deserved a 4. It lost 1 point each for the bread and excess grease, and 2 points for dry pork and lack of melt.

Hopefully the next round of Cubans blows this one out of the water. Til next time!

Big thank you to Linds B for the intro and to the lovely Ali Clark for being our first ever correspondent here at sorryless! Linds and me gave her this assignment (begged her) at the last minute and she nailed it. After which she went skinny dipping and then had a champagne party to celebrate her college graduation.

Kurt Vonnegut would be proud.

Bending the rules in our search for the perfect Cuban sandwich

Yorgos Cuban SammyMe and Linds B took our traveling show downtown last week, paying a visit to a local landmark. Yorgos has been rocking the corner restaurant thing in the smack dab middle of Lancaster city since 1989.

In spite of this staple status, I had never stepped foot in the doors until now. And it probably wasn’t gonna happen if I hadn’t googled up a last minute change of plans.

Quick shout out to the National Champion Villanova Wildcats! They made it look easy against a couple of basketball powerhouses in Kansas and Michigan, and in so doing made some history. The win makes the City of Brotherly Love a sporting hot spot, with the Eagles and ‘Cats representing. Imma root for the Sixers to keep this streak going because it’s nice to see a hard luck sports town become the place to be.

Yorgos is a Mediterranean eatery dressed in a pub; and it’s small enough that Clark Kent would probably dash inside for a quick wardrobe change. I was instantly in like with the place as a result, because it was giving me a chill Martini bar vibe. My preferred dining experience requires ambient lighting, leather cushioned booths that pinch the walls, a lively bar crowd, music spilling out in symmetrical accompaniment with restaurant chatter and of course . . good eats. Home? Meet run.

So we dug into this buzz whilst ordering up a first round of friendly beverages- Linds going with a mixed rum drink while I cozied up to a frosty Sam Adams Lager. We talked up mental health, food, tats and the peeps we know and love and even the ones we’re not so crazy about.

Our entry level choice was tacos since the lovely waitress let us know it was dollar taco night . . and she got no further than that before we’d placed an order for a half dozen of the little buggers in a soft taco formation. They were delectably tasty company, and they were not lonely for very long before the main event hit the table.

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The Cuban traditional they serve up at Yorgos is sexy. Like . . if this thing was a person, it would be Vera Farmiga in The Departed, seeing as how I consider it her tastiest performance. And the hell with the Academy for not having a Tastiest Actress category!

The blueprint is true to the original- pork, ham, Swiss-cheese, pickles and mustard. The bread is where they went all curve ball on us. It wasn’t pressed. And as per our rule book, any Cubano which is not pressed to specs will not be considered for Best of Show. We aren’t much for the rules, excepting for this one. Because really . . it’s all about priorities.

Before I throw it back to the judges, I wanted to let you know The Twinkies Post is coming up this week. It will feature the Easter night dessert treats that me and my daughter cooked up. And umm . . . if you’re into heart healthy foods, the Twinkies post ain’t gonna appeal . . so just scroll down till you get to the music video.

The Verdict

Here then, is the Linds B recap as per her Facebook post . . .

Hittin’ y’all with that fresh Cuban post, because Marc and I are doing the Lord’s work here. Once again, completely unexpected and fresh from the sweet, sweet pits of Google; we’ve come across the current leader across the board with a hearty 9/10! To our complete surprise, Yorgos hit us with their Cuban panini and damn were we blown away! With every flavor present in every single bite! Why not 10/10 you ask? Well, as we’ve covered in the past, we’re hard graders! In spite of the bread being an absolutely delicious addition, it wasn’t the pressed bread that brings that 100% accuracy! However, amazingly delicious! Definitely go and give it a taste! 

This is how irony meets destiny, because this leader in the clubhouse might never have gained such an edge if they had played by the Cuban Sandwich Rules and pressed this puppy. The bread was that good, and like Linds B put it . . everything else about the sammy was winning. Big.
Kids, let this be a lesson to you that coloring outside the lines has its advantages. Just remember to bring the passion, the flavor and most importantly, the soul. And the right amount of mustard wouldn’t hurt.