(ran CI/HT edition)
The restaurant scene in Citrus County has gotten a welcome boost of flavor since Caribbean Cravings opened in January.
The tiny restaurant on U.S. 19 between Crystal River and Homosassa claims in its ads that it offers food with Latin Caribbean roots prepared with Grandma Mimi's exquisite recipes and marinades.
I've never met Grandma Mimi, but I sure would like to thank her for inspiring this new business. In a major city, Caribbean Cravings might not seem like such a treat, but with variety sometimes hard to come by here, the restaurant is much-appreciated. I recently had a terrific carry-out lunch from there that left me wishing Caribbean Cravings was not a half-hour drive from my home.
The menu features Cuban, pork and ham and cheese sandwiches, all prepared on fresh Cuban bread; plates of garbanzo beans, black beans or chicken served with rice; a pork platter; and black bean or garbanzo bean soup.
Also available are stuffed potatoes, hot deviled crab cakes, Cuban toast and a variety of Cuban pastries.
To be truthful, I ordered a lot more food than I thought my fiance and I should reasonably eat. But the prices were so low and the offerings so tempting that we wanted to check out as much as we could. The generous servings made for lots of leftovers that were surprisingly enticing to my soon-to-be stepdaughters, ages 4 and 6.
Virtually everything was first-rate. I am not a fan of Cuban sandwiches, but my fiance said: "This is the best I've ever had outside of Miami _ well outside of Tampa." He qualified his remarks a moment later when he admitted he hadn't that many Cubans, but he added: "This is really good." The sandwich, at $3.25, featured ham and pork, mustard, pickles and a mild white cheese on lightly toasted bread.
We also had the chicken and yellow rice ($3.75). It consisted of a tender thigh and leg on a bed of yellow rice dotted with green peas and pimentos. Chicken and rice were both flavorful, but not spicy.
The pork on the pork platter ($3.95) was juicy and plentiful. I've never been too fond of pork, but I would happily order this again.
My favorite selection was the garbanzo bean soup (95 cents for a half-pint), which comes in a light tomato broth. They also sell the soup by the pint and quart _ a nice idea for rounding out a home-cooked dinner. The black bean and rice soup was also good, hampered only by an overabundance of chopped onions.
When we picked up the order, we decided to have a quick thimble-full cup of Cuban espresso (35 cents). The tiny sweet treat started off our lunch just right. For dessert we had a guava-cream cheese pastelito (95 cents), a flaky, tasty pastry.
The only disappointment we had was the hot deviled crab cake ($1.35), which seemed to us a glorified hush puppy. There was nothing wrong with it, exactly; it just didn't have the intriguing taste that the rest of the meal had.
Caribbean Cravings also sells its marinade by the bottle ($4.00), pork by the pound ($6.25), and features gourmet coffees.
NATURE COAST TO GO
1239 S Suncoast Blvd., Nottingham Square
Phone: 795-7746; fax 795-7888
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Consumers: Two adults
What we got: Black bean soup, garbanzo bean soup, Cuban sandwich, chicken and yellow rice, pork platter, hot deviled crab cake; Cuban pastelito, Cuban espresso, two Cokes.
What it cost: $17.81
Pay with: Cash