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The Floridian readies to defend its 'Best Historic Cuban' title

TAMPA

First of all, there are no secret ingredients in a "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich."

Secret ingredients are … FORBIDDEN.

The ingredients are, in fact, precise: ham, mojo pork, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, exactly three dill pickle chips (sliced in circles), crispy, fresh Cuban bread and Genoa salami.

This is so definitive — so ingrained and indisputable — that in April 2012, the Tampa City Council passed a resolution that the Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich (with those exact aforementioned ingredients) is the city's official sandwich.

Lettuce? Blasphemy!

Tomatoes? Heresy!

Oil and vinegar? Oh please, stop!

When Harold Seltzer talks about the Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich, he beams with a grin because he thinks the fuss surrounding the "specific ingredients" is fun.

He also grins because his restaurant, the Floridian at 4534 W Kennedy Blvd., earned the 2015 victory for Best Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich at the annual Cuban Sandwich Festival — a title Seltzer will defend Sunday against dozens of competitors.

"Our slogan since we began (in 2009) is that we make 'The Finest Cuban Sandwich on the Planet,'" Seltzer said. "We can say that partly because we insist on using the finest ingredients."

Precisely.

A 10-inch Floridian "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich" features each ingredient measured to the exact ounce, with each meat inspected for leanness and consistency, and with each item layered specifically between the freshest bread, delivered every day from La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor City.

Once the sandwich is put together, it is toasted "just so" in a press.

Best to eat it hot off the press.

Fill that tummy.

Nice.

Teri Oleson, the Floridian's general manager, makes Cubans all day long, and she says she makes extra sure they are all made the same way.

"The magic," Oleson said, "is in the freshness, the consistency and the love."

• • •

Seltzer maintains a love for the Cuban and love for treating customers and employees with respect. The founder of the old Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse chain — named for his late grandfather — sold his interest in 2004. Six years later, his successors closed down with no notice to their employees or suppliers, and with over $300,000 in unredeemed gift cards.

"I thought it was a 'crappy' ending," Seltzer said. "Although I was long gone and paid in full, I decided to try and rewrite that ending."

He bought the contents of the St. Petersburg and Port Richey locations, the last two that he opened, did some refurbishing, assembled his old management team and rehired about 150 former employees who were suddenly out of work.

He reopened two locations as Harold Seltzer's in St. Petersburg and Port Richey, and they remain open today.

• • •

As for the Floridian, it features many variations of the Cuban sandwich, but the most popular, of course, is the "Historic Tampa Cuban," which is historic indeed.

Some history: Salami landed in the Tampa Cuban sandwich via Italians who settled in Ybor City with the Spanish and the Cubans; the sandwich began getting pressed when Ybor City bricklayers discovered that hot bricks placed on the sandwich made it toastier and thus, tastier; mustard was used without mayonnaise because back in the day, refrigeration was a challenge.

Miami, of course, takes exception to Tampa's claim that it's Historic Sandwich is superior. Miami seems to think that Tampa is weaker because it let salami slip into the sandwich. Is there salami in Cuba? Miami doesn't seem to think so.

• • •

Tampa's Jolie R. Gonzalez, founder of Tampa's Cuban Sandwich Festival, stands firmly behind the Tampa Cuban sandwich, but she also stands behind others, as well: part of the reason there are four categories — Best Cuban in the World, Best Historic Tampa Cuban, Most Popular Cuban and Non-Traditional — in the festival's sandwich competition.

Unlike the Best Historic Tampa Cuban, the other categories can play a little with the ingredients.

"The Cuban sandwich is going national, even international (one entry at this year's Tampa Cuban Sandwich Festival is from London)," said Gonzalez, who on Saturday will attempt to build the world's longest Cuban at 125 feet.

"The popularity of the Cuban sandwich is catching fire."

Contact Scott Purks at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

>>IF YOU GO

Cuban Sandwich Festival

The annual event spans two days with participants attempting to build the longest Cuban sandwich in the world at 125 feet — or 5 feet more than the record recently set in Orlando — from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City campus. The sandwich will then be donated to homeless charities. On Sunday, "The Smackdown" for the "best Cubans" takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Centennial Park in four categories: Best Cuban in the World, Best Historic Tampa Cuban, Most Popular Cuban and Non-Traditional. Dozens of judges will decide among the dozens of entries, including one from the London Cuban Sandwich Festival. Admission is free. For more information, go to thecubansandwich

festival.com.

The Floridian readies to defend its 'Best Historic Cuban' title 03/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2016 9:12am]
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