Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

New entry in the Cuban sandwich war: Largo

LARGO

What has been described as the great "Cuban sandwich war" was launched two weeks ago between Tampa and Miami.

The first volley was fired by Tampa. The City Council proclaimed the "Historic Tampa Cuban" the city's signature sandwich, claimed to be the city of origin for the sandwich, and listed the official ingredients as ham, mojo pork, salami, Swiss cheese, mustard and three dill pickle slices inside Cuban bread scored with a leaf from a palmetto palm frond.

Miami fired back. Residents there, including Mayor Tomás Regalado, made it clear that the honor of most authentic Cuban sandwich belonged to Miami. They scoffed at the inclusion of salami in a Cuban and challenged Tampa to a sandwich-making duel.

Left out of the public strutting and blustering is Largo. But Largo also lays claim to a great Cuban sandwich and provides a convenient way for diners to test its claim by taking a sampling tour along State Road 686.

Within a 5-mile stretch of the road, also known as East Bay Drive/Roosevelt Boulevard, at least three restaurants honor the tradition of the Cuban sandwich: the Airport Variety Store, Really Famous Tampa Cubans and Nita's Place. Their customers say they would put those sandwiches up against any from Tampa or Miami.

The oldest, the Airport Variety Store across Roosevelt Boulevard from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, opened in 1975 and has a countywide reputation for its Cubans. While customers wait for owner Rolando Reyes Sr. or his grandson, Tony Reyes, to serve up their sandwiches, they can sip a cafe con leche and snack on deviled crab at a picnic table outside the former gas station. They can also peruse the hand-rolled cigars for sale near the cash register.

Rolando Reyes got his start in his family's restaurant in Cienfuegos, Cuba, before moving to the United States in 1969.

"The Cuban sandwich is different in Miami than it is in Tampa,'' said Reyes, 82. "But you ask me where the best Cuban is, and I'll tell you. It is right here with me.''

At 5 a.m. six days a week, before he drives to Pinellas from his home in Tampa, Reyes stops at Mauricio Faedo's Bakery on Florida Avenue for Cuban bread. To ensure the quality of the mojo pork, Reyes cooks pigs himself behind the store once a week.

Longtime customer John Marcella says the Airport Variety Store's offerings rival any Cuban restaurant's anywhere. "I'd say it's correct to describe this place as the granddaddy of Cuban sandwich makers,'' said Marcella, a real estate agent. "The owner is serious about what he makes.''

Reyes' son, Rolando Reyes Jr., 50, agrees with that assessment. A retired paramedic-firefighter for the city of Tampa, he plans to start work at the store soon. "I've watched my father, with his passion, devote so much time to this business. He has been making this food his entire life,'' said Reyes Jr.

Both men are comfortable veering from the items mentioned in Tampa's official Cuban sandwich decree. If a customer wants to switch out, say, the Swiss for mozzarella, it doesn't mean the sandwich is any less Cuban, Reyes Sr. said.

And instead of yellow mustard, he likes to slather on his own secret sauce.

"But never lettuce,'' he declared. "Never put lettuce on a Cuban sandwich.''

When Reyes opened the store 37 years ago, he only sold three sandwiches a day. But over time, traffic across the street at the airport picked up, and so did the number of visitors to the market.

"Today we sell 240 to 300 a day,'' Reyes said.

The meat of the matter

Unlike the Airport Variety Store, Really Famous Tampa Style Cubans at 1300 East Bay Drive has an indoor dining room.

Bill Ackerly, a fifth-generation native of Tampa, opened the restaurant in the early 1990s but sold it in 1997 to Virginio Paloma, who continues to serve the restaurant's signature crispy, chewy, pressed Cuban sandwiches. Paloma did not return phone calls for this story.

Customer Gina Smith of Largo says she considers Really Famous Tampa Cubans "legit. It is authentic.''

At Nita's Place Cuban Sandwiches and More in Keene Plaza, owner Juanita Carmichael is happy to share her view on the war of words over Cuban sandwiches.

She opened her restaurant in 2010 after working for several years for Ackerly, who shared with her both his historical knowledge and his skills with Cuban cuisine.

"Bill Ackerly taught me so much about Cuban cooking and how the sandwich was first made to help the cigar workers share meals,'' she said.

Dos and don'ts? "Lettuce is a big no-no. It changes the flavor. And a Cuban is all about the meat."

Carmichael says in 2012 it is easy to get an authentic sandwich outside the historical Cuban communities.

"A customer doesn't have to go to Ybor City to find an authentic Cuban sandwich anymore,'' she said. "But for me to make the authentic Cuban, no matter what, I still have to get my Cuban bread from Tampa."

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or [email protected]

Comments
Rays hang on to beat Angels 5-3 behind Robertson slam, get back to .500

Rays hang on to beat Angels 5-3 behind Robertson slam, get back to .500

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Playing .500 ball is obviously no goal, and the Rays certainly know that.But given where they came from, that terrible 1-8 start that oozed into 3-12 and 4-13, climbing back to the respectability of .500 would be an accomplish...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: New pitching plan worked so well Romo starts again Sunday

Rays journal: New pitching plan worked so well Romo starts again Sunday

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The first part of the Rays' new and unusual pitching plan worked so well Saturday, as game "opener" RHP Sergio Romo struck out the first three Angels hitters, that the Rays will do it again on Sunday.That's right. Romo will st...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay withstood Washington’s barrage

Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay withstood Washington’s barrage

TAMPA — A two-goal lead was suddenly only one, and the Washington Capitals, having pulled their goalie, had a furious 96-second siege.Andrei Vasilevskiy made the last three of his 28 saves to preserve the Lightning's 3-2 victory Saturday in Gam...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay’s early surges carried the day

Lightning-Capitals: How Tampa Bay’s early surges carried the day

TAMPA — Dan Girardi knew where the puck was heading. It was heading to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer on net, so Girardi did the only thing he could do. He blocked it.With his rump."It hit me right in the cheek," said Girardi, the Lightning defe...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory in Game 5

Lightning-Capitals: Grading Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory in Game 5

TAMPA — Faster than Justify down the stretch at the Preakness, quicker than Harry and Meghan walked down the aisle at Windsor Castle, the Lightning jumped on Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final. No runaway gallop. No funny hats. Just ho...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: How Ryan Callahan and his linemates overwhelmed the Caps

Lightning-Capitals: How Ryan Callahan and his linemates overwhelmed the Caps

TAMPA — They're called grinders. Pluggers. Checkers.They're lunch-pail guys. Like 9-to-5ers. They get up every day and go to work. They punch in and punch out for no glory or credit. But the business would fall apart without them.They're the fo...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Justify wins foggy Preakness, keeps Triple Crown bid alive

Justify wins foggy Preakness, keeps Triple Crown bid alive

BALTIMORE — Justify rounded the final turn and hit the top of the stretch winded but with the lead. The roar from the crowd was delayed, hushed by the thick fog that enveloped the track. When Justify emerged from the haze in view of the grandstand, t...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: Quick strike, but not the quickest ever

Lightning-Capitals: Quick strike, but not the quickest ever

TAMPA — Cedric Paquette needed only 19 seconds to put the Lightning on the scoreboard Saturday night, coming up with the second-fastest playoff goal in franchise history.The only goal faster? Tampa Bay's Adam Hall needed only 13 seconds to scor...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Rowdies tie in debut of new coach Neill Collins

St. PETERSBURG — Neill Collins, the former Rowdies defender who this week abruptly replaced Stuart Campbell as coach of the team, was a bit ambivalent about his debut, but he sure liked the way his club played in the second half of Saturda...
Updated: 9 hours ago
USF softball team’s season ends in Gainesville

USF softball team’s season ends in Gainesville

The USF softball team's season ended late Saturday in the Gainesville Regional with a 3-2 loss to Ohio State, its second NCAA Tournament loss to the Buckeyes in as many days.OSU (36-15) must defeat No. 2 overall national seed Florida (52-8) twice Sun...
Updated: 9 hours ago