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.

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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.

When Rocky Got Real

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In honor of the Eagles Super Bowl win, I broke out my New Years resolution to make a totally new sammy. The rules were simple: It had to be out of this world tasty, super rich . . and it had to be something I wouldn’t mind treating myself to on lazy- non running- mornings now and then. Simply put, it doesn’t make my roster if I wouldn’t make it again.

This particular sammy scored a roster spot. And while it may not be my starting QB, that’s plenty fine. I mean, it worked out pretty well for Nick Foles . . .

Here’s the blueprint for my Winna Bagel: 

Plain bagel, toasted and lightly buttered
Lebanon Sweet bologna
Jalapeno cream cheese
Muenster cheese
Scrambled egg (whipped frothy with S&P and a little Half and Half)
Sriracha honey chicken
Bacon
Guacamole

I put the sweet bologna on first. Next up was my cheesy scrambled egg, which was gooey in the middle with the cream cheese and Muenster. It had some delectably crunchy cheese nibbles on the edges. I topped that with chicken, bacon and a ‘lil guacamole.

The first thing that hit me was the smoky flavor of the sweet bologna and next came the creamy wave of the scrambled egg. The sweet and spicy chicken played well with the bacon and they danced madly with the guac. Needless to say it was a title winning flavor.

As for the game. best Super Bowl I’ve ever seen.

The back and forth scoring, the trick plays and ballsy calls by Doug Pederson. The middle finger Tom Brady threw at Father Time as he shattered passing records. And Nick Foles, the dude who almost retired a couple years ago, matching Brady and then beating him when it mattered most.

My Top 5 Venti Vents:

5- Defense was either optional, or those squads just decided to get a head start on the off-season.

4- I did not watch the halftime show, because while I dig JT, I don’t dig all the hype that surrounds the event.

3- I have nothing against Chris Collinsworth, but he really annoyed me for some reason.

2- Instant replay was introduced as a way to correct egregious calls. Unfortunately, it has taken out the human element of a bang/bang play that should be left alone and in most cases it STILL gets shit wrong! Even with a million different camera angles.

1- Sense was made of the nonsensical when a football neophyte brought enlightenment to my Super Bowl party.

“If he catches the ball, what’s the problem?” She asked.

“Well, he has to make a football move or it’s not considered a catch,” I replied.

“Oh, so he can prove he’s playing football and not hockey?”

“Well, it’s not that simple,” I insisted.

“It IS simple. And why are they reviewing this catch?”

“To see whether or not he had possession of the ball,” I replied.

“It’s in his arms!! Hell, if it’s enough evidence to get you arrested, it should be enough evidence for a football game!”

Now, if a fan who only watches football on occasion can get it right . . what’s up with the league office?

Other than that . . .

This game was a microcosm of the Eagles season. To paraphrase Rocky Balboa, no matter how hard they got hit, this team just kept moving forward. And in so doing, they exorcised the demons of so many heartbreaking endings. And they settled up with a town whose love for its hometown team would be dangerous if it weren’t so fucking romantic.

Take all that, and add this. I think the team that never won a title before Sunday is going to go down as the team that brought down an empire. Because I think Bellichick is getting out of Dodge, and while Tom Brady will probably continue doing Tom Brady things, it’s gonna be different.

Personally, I think this title tops all the other sports droughts that came before it. The Eagles didn’t have the romance of a ‘curse’ the way the Cubs and Red Sox did. And while Cleveland and San Francisco can most definitely bring the passion and love, Philly is a whole ‘nother beast. Because no town can match the psychosis of a team and its city in this way. And that’s kind of what this marriage has always been, psychotic. Fanatical doesn’t quite describe what Eagles fans truly are.

No less an authority on winning than Giselle pointed out how Eagles fans have waited a million years to call themselves Super Bowl champions. It probably does feel that long for a fan base that didn’t have a dynasty to fall back on. But that’s okay, because if you asked them how it feels to finally get their one, they’d probably all say the same damn thing.

Worth it.

 

 

Groundhog Day Meets Rocky Balboa

We have seen this movie before.

The one where the Patriots win twelve plus games, score a couple playoff wins in Foxboro and end up in the Super Bowl amid all the chatter about how they cheat to win and how they get all the calls. There are few things more certain than death, taxes . . and the Patriots being in the Super Bowl. This is Groundhog Day in cleats.

And once the Patriots get to the Super Bowl, well . . . you know. They vanquished the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ back in 2002 when they came from behind to beat the Kurt Warner led St. Louis Rams with a field goal as time expired. They were the ‘darlings’ of the league that year, the charming underdogs with spunk and a pretty boy quarterback who defied all the odds and took down the Goliath. Man, how things have changed.

Since then, the Patriots have been more consistent than Apple stock. Their laundry list of Super Bowl victims includes the Panthers, Seahawks, Eagles and Falcons. On that last count, the Patriots actually had us believing their remarkable run was finally over by spotting Atlanta a twenty five point lead before storming back to win, again.

This time around, they get a rematch thirteen years in the making. They beat Andy Reid’s Eagles in 2004 to cap off their second consecutive title and third in four years. And if they win it again this time around, it will be their second consecutive title and . . you guessed it . . their third in four years. Attention Patriots fans, please pick up the white courtesy phone, Bill Murray is calling.

There has never been anything like this Patriots run in sports. Not over this length of time and not with this degree of consistency there hasn’t. Tom Brady went a decade between world championships before beating Seattle a few years back. Which is the kind of story line that would be dismissed out of hand if you tried peddling it in Hollywood. Seventeen years later, the Patriots are still doing this. Tom Brady is still bringing his team from behind in January’s biggest moments. Bill Belichick is still making halftime adjustments that prove he might be the best there has ever been. New England is still the sports center of the universe.

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t just going up against an MVP candidate quarterback and a battle tested coach who knows what to do with two weeks prep time. They are not just going up against a team that defies age and injuries and all this nonsense talk about mutinies inside the Patriots clubhouse. The Eagles are going up against seventeen years, five Super Bowl titles and a history unlike any the league has ever witnessed. They are going up against Jordan and Jeter, Gretzky and a young Mike Tyson. They are going up the Roman Empire, whose days are dwindling but still mighty. They are going up against a team that took the Jaguars best shot before reminding them that the game isn’t over after three quarters.

Here’s the thing. The Eagles don’t care a wit about that history. They’re too young to remember Gretzky and Jordan or the best of Derek Jeter. And the only thing they know about Mike Tyson is that his championship reign came to an end when someone finally punched him in the mouth.

Really, the only history the Eagles are going to focus on as far as New England is concerned are the two Super Bowl titles the Patriots didn’t collect. And isn’t it ironic that the Eagles are going to be borrowing a page from their long time rivals- the New York Giants- who have proven to be New England’s kryptonite not once but twice? And the game plan is really quite simple. Punch them in the mouth.

This is the tenth anniversary of that first Giants/Patriots clash, when Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin and a ridiculous helmet catch by David Tyree all conspired to ruin the Patriots perfect season. I wrote back then that the Patriots owned the worst 18-1 record in the history of the league. And as if that wasn’t enough, the Giants came back four years later, and with the Patriots hell bent on revenge, they beat them again.

The Eagles go into Minnesota with every intention of following that blueprint. They’ll be carrying a chip on their shoulder and the talent to give us a different ending. They’ve navigated injuries of their own. They lost their MVP candidate Carson Wentz during their division clinching game. They lost their all world left tackle Jason Peter and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks in the same game! And somehow, someway, they still made it to Minnesota.

They came to the Super Bowl not to praise New England, but to bury them. And yeah, we’ve heard this kind of thing before and we’ve seen how things usually turn out. And I expect that the Patriots are probably going to find a way to win, again. Because as a Dolphins fan, I’ve been conditioned to do so.

But this is a heavyweight title rematch, and so there’s that punchers chance thing to consider. We have the brash and cocky reigning champion going up against a brawler from Philadelphia. I’m pretty sure the Eagles would be just fine with the Rocky Balboa comparisons.

Considering what happened in the rematch.