By LAURA Reiley
Times Food Critic
A newspaper editor of mine years ago left his job to start some boring-sounding e-commerce thingy. That thingy turned out to be PayPal and he is now living the life of Riley. While I, living the life of Reiley, am still doing this. This is all to say sometimes something huge doesn't look like much to the untrained eye.
Harold Seltzer, co-founder and former president of the Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse chain, saw a gem called the Floridian. It is a Treasure Island old-timer founded by the Dilar family, distinguished by its long record of winning the title of best Cuban sandwich in the area. He licensed the concept last year and opened a Tampa-side Floridian on a busy stretch of Kennedy Boulevard. It's small, charming, tidy — just a shop with a row of presses and young sandwich engineers adept with the mojo spiced pork and Genoa salami.
But it could be huge. If the economy gets better and the Floridian gets the traffic it deserves, Seltzer has plans. He already has the experience of taking a concept and growing it to multiple units. What he's doing here is showcasing a small number of the state's proudest culinary inventions, focusing on quality and consistency.
The Cuban sandwich ($4.99 for the 7-inch, $6.99 for the 10-inch) is the centerpiece, its cross-section revealing a perfect stack of sweet ham, slightly spicy roast pork, salami, gooey Swiss, dill pickle and a slick of mustard-mayo mix. The pressing is aggressive, yielding a sandwich that is crunchy-edged but not dry or tough. Just as good is the breakfast sandwich ($3.49), essentially a Cuban sandwich masquerading convincingly as morning fare with its over-medium fried egg tucked into the mix, and a thick-sliced pressed turkey sandwich ($4.99 and $6.99), the turkey roasted in house.
Sure you could have a fountain drink ($1.79, $1.99) with your sandwich, but show a little Florida pride by opting for fresh-squeezed local orange juice for the same price, its sweet-tart flavor balanced and quenching (California oranges, feh). Or, in the case of the breakfast sandwich, head for the Cuban staple, cafe con leche ($1.79, $2.39), the foamy, rich steamed milk mellowing the dark roast.
The Floridian hits a number of the state's other fabled foods: deviled crab ($2.99), stuffed potato ($2.49) and a nice, cuminy black beans on yellow rice ($3.39, $4.99) with a flurry of chopped onions and buttery Cuban toast as accompaniment.
Seltzer's Canadian roots may account for the shop's other triumph. The french fries ($2.99) are a sobering reminder of how many bad fries I eat. In true European style, he cuts the potatoes, blanches and dries them, then fries them once at a low temp, then a second time at a higher temp. Seems like a lot of work for fries until you select one, dip it in the Montreal-style peppery brown sauce and bite. Earthy like real potato, greaseless and pliable with a fluffy center.
And that's it. Harold Seltzer is doing a few other sandwiches, a few other side dishes, but that's basically the whole enchilada. A few things, done well, for a good price. I may not be a good predictor (PayPal?), but this seems like an idea that could really take off.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Read her dining blog at tampabay.com/blogs/ dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or assessment.