The hungry who work at the Port of Tampa sooner or later end up at D&D Delights at 1301 S 20th St. in an industrial part of town near the waterfront. Eye-catching, painted aqua blue, the takeout restaurant has bars on the windows and a big gravel parking lot.
In the parking lot you almost never see an ordinary passenger car. You never see a van operated by a soccer mom. Everybody who patronizes D&D pretty much drives a pickup or a dump truck and belongs to the gender "masculine," although from time to time fashionably dressed women from the Tampa Port Authority main office on Kennedy show up for a Cuban sandwich and a blue collar thrill.
You see fewer neckties and suits here than tattoos and do-rags and snuff cans tucked into shirt pockets. Most everyone wears jeans, construction boots and T-shirts stuck to upper torsos by September sweat. You see longshoremen and tugboat captains and deckhands and truck drivers from 5 a.m., when the place opens, until it closes at 3:30 p.m.
A guy named Santi Socorro, 46, is behind the counter for every one of those minutes. He has owned the place for 18 years. His two main assistants are his wife, Marta, 44, and Maria Morffy, 32. Marta and Maria gulp shots of Cuban coffee all day. They move between the kitchen, the counter and the cash registers like pollen-drunk hummingbirds.
That's Marta. She has the knack of looking over the counter, through the crowd of hungry men, and finding the dawdler who hasn't ordered. This particular dawdler has eyebrows like furry caterpillars on steroids and orders a D Special: ham, turkey, bacon and Swiss on Cuban bread for $3.25.
That's Maria. She has the most piercing voice this side of Gloria Estefan, a voice that cuts through the din like a foghorn on a freighter. Guy with a T-shirt that proclaims "Stud Service" snaps to attention and orders a Cuban. Cubans are good here, served on fresh bread with ham pressed and pickles crisp. D&D sells more than 300 a day, and they arrive in your hands quickly, perhaps because of all that Cuban coffee being consumed by Maria and Marta. Note to managers of big-chain fast-food restaurants in the Tampa Bay area: Drop by this place and see the definition of "fast-food" in action.
Santi Socorro, who is as soft-spoken as his helpers are vociferous, was born in Cuba. So was his father, Rufino, who is 82. Rufino had a little grocery in Cuba but lost it to Castro and came to the States. Now Rufino is retired, only he shows up every day in time for lunch and opens the door politely for patrons and pats their backs as they pass. He also watches for the light-fingered who take advantage of the confusion to steal papaya juice or bags of fried pork skins.
For the most part, everybody is honest and friendly. Santi and Marta and Maria often call customers by their first names and know exactly what they are going to order even before they open their mouths. If Santi doesn't know you, he calls you "Bubba." There are Bubbas here, lots of them, but also men from Central Asia and Southeast Asia and Africa and just about every island in the Caribbean. Many customers begin their sentences in English but finish them in Spanish.
There are no tables inside, but a few patrons sit at the picnic tables in back despite the heat and the neighborhood cats that beg for food. Most customers take their food back to the shipyards or sit in their trucks and listen to Rush Limbaugh while they eat. Finished eating, some customers go back into the restaurant for a second order or to buy Arturo Fuente cigars or Levi Garrett chewing tobacco or M&Ms and maybe grab some quick cash from the ATM. The sign on the ATM says "Cash Removed Nightly." Above the Cash Removed Nightly sign is a painting of Jesus.
By midmorning Jesus looks down on a scuffed floor, but immediately after lunch the mopping begins. Maria mops between the feet of customers if she has to. Then she returns to her place behind the counter and answers the phone while mopping and drinking additional shots of strong coffee. She doesn't have three hands, but it seems that way.
Here comes another Bubba. He must be hungry. Cuban sandwich, whole. Black beans. Stuffed potato.
Maria looks him in the eye.
"DO YOU WANT HOT SAUCE ON YOUR STUFFED POTATO?"
Of course he does.
Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at (727) 893-8727 or klinksptimes.com.
At D&D Delights on S 20th Street in Tampa, customers crowd the counter during the lunch rush. Many of the restaurant's patrons are men who have business at the Port of Tampa.
Santi and Marta Socorro named their sandwich shop after their two daughters, both college students.
Marta Socorro takes an order over the phone. It wouldn't surprising if the person on the other end wanted a Cuban sandwich, since the shop sells more than 300 of them a day.