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Largo takeout offers culinary trip to Cuba

(ran NP edition)

A gringo runs this Cuban joint. But you couldn't tell by tasting the food.

It was Sunday. Football on the tube. A significant other and myself, my 7-year-old son, my parents and a high school-age sister are sitting around anticipating the hunger pangs that usually accompany Sundays and football.

Pang.

I walked in to Bill Ackerly's 4-year-old restaurant expecting to have to brush up on my Spanish. Nope.

"What are ya' gonna have?" I was asked politely.

An inner giggle. What won't I have? This one's on the company.

I went for a sampling.

The variety is surprising for such a tiny place: three huge booths, a small bar and two plastic tables outside where Cuban music is broadcast over a tiny speaker.

Each item was placed in its own Styrofoam container and then inside its own paper bag. All was then placed inside a sliced-open box and handed over with a smile. Each item's existence within the box was verified not by me, but by the smiling one.

Hurry up, I'm thinking. Time to eat.

Ten minutes after I walked in the door, I'm back in my truck and cruising toward home, the exotic scent of roasted pork filling the cab.

Everyone kind of dipped in. My son had the famous "kid sampler," in which everything bought made its presence on his plate in a tiny way. A forkful of potato ball. An inch or two of Cuban. A small pile of rice and them savory beans.

"I like the rice," he says. What else? I ask. "The rice is good."

But what else? "All of it," he returns emphatically. "Even the potato ball?" "What's that?" "That right there." "That's good, too." "Better than the rice?" A pause. "No."

The only complaint was shared by all who dined on the Cuban feast that Sunday afternoon: not quite hot enough.

It's a short drive home, so a few more vapors could have been rising on the soup and everything else for that matter.

But it wasn't cold, and by no means was it reason to call and complain.

There could have been a few more sausage medallions in the jambalaya ($4.49), but the flavor was superb. The beans and rice were mildly spiced and generously heaped.

Mom was pleased about the chicken and rice ($4.49).

"The chicken and rice was really good, Danny," she says. Call me Dan, Mom.

The flan is typically sweet and rich.

The large Cubans ($4.25) were authentic-tasting. The bread was crispy, pressed into large portions of pre-cured mojo (pronounced mo-ho) pork, imported from Miami, Ackerly says.

We dipped our Cubans in a mojo sauce (29 cents) which added vinegar, oregano, garlic and Ackerly's secret seasonings.

Really famous? No. Really good? Yes.

PINELLAS TO GO

"Really Famous" Tampa Style Cubans

1300 East Bay Drive, Largo.

Phone: 586-5797.

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Consumers: five adults, one child.

What we got: Spanish bean soup, two Cuban pork sandwiches with mojo sauce, chicken and rice with black beans, jambalaya with rice and beans, two potato balls and flan.

Time it took: 10 minutes.

What it Cost: About $34

Pay with: Cash, personal check, no credit cards.

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