If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Cuban sandwich can feel pretty good about itself right now.
Last year saw a limited time, fast food version at Arby's (tried it), and the introduction of a vegan Cuban into the local market by Golden Dinosaurs in Gulfport (tried it). The Florida State Fair brought a Cuban sandwich pizza to Tampa last month (yeah we tried it).
The latest: Cuban sandwich flavored potato chips.
The problem: You can't buy Cuban sandwich flavored potato chips in the Tampa, the city that gave the world the Cuban sandwich, or anywhere else in Tampa Bay. The chips are only sold at Kroger grocery stores, an Ohio-based chain that operates in 35 states, but not in Florida.
Our solution: Obtain some rare Kroger-brand Cuban sandwich flavored potato chips via the dark web, black market, shadow economy (or ask a friend in Cincinnati via Facebook to send a bag to St. Petersburg).
Emails sent to Kroger's media relations department seeking info on why they turned Tampa's signature sandwich into a chip were not answered in time for this story. If you want to pick some up, the closest store to Tampa Bay is located in Norcross, Georgia.
The chips arrived with much newsroom fanfare on Tuesday, and the list of ingredients was immediately checked for salami. None present, though they do contain swiss cheese cultures, milk, salt and enzymes. After a lunchtime taste-test, here's what the staff of the Tampa Bay Times thought.
Daniel Figueroa IV: Surprisingly, it tastes like a Cuban. Or rather, the taste you get after you've eaten a Cuban. There's a definite brininess to them and the essence of something ham-like, as if someone whispered the word "ham" into the bag before it was sealed.
Ellen Clarke: I think the Swiss cheese cultures are my favorite part.
Tim Nickens: They do! They really do! They really taste like a Cuban sandwich! Ellen Clarke: Can I quote you on that? Tim Nickens: Just call me 'noted Cuban sandwich expert Tim Nickens.'
Maggie Duffy: I was surprised at, and then mildly disturbed by how much they tasted like a real Cuban sandwich. But they're too much like real food to eat them with another sandwich or a burger. They'd probably be good with just a nice cold beer.
Chris Tisch: A someone in our group of taste testers asked: In a blind taste test, would you know this chip was flavored like a Cuban? Almost all of us agreed: nope. That said, it's not all bad. You get the salt of the meat, the creaminess of the cheese, the tart of the pickle. It doesn't taste overwhelmingly artificial, but it also lacks punch. Like a lot of chips flavored after something that makes us go WHAT!? it's just okay.
Christopher Spata: (Excitedly) I taste meat! ... (Disturbed, looking at chip in hand) Yeah, meat.
Gabrielle Calise: They were tasty and I could instantly recognize Cuban flavors from the first bite, especially Swiss cheese and tangy notes of pickles and mustard. But mostly it just made me crave an actual hot Cuban sandwich.
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Claire McNeill: The chips remind me of the three days I spent hunkering down at the Times printing plant during Hurricane Irma, three days in which I ate a vast number of heavily mustardy ham-and-cheese cold cut sandwiches off of a styrofoam plate. The chips have that same processed, intense ham flavor, except now it's like someone added 400 pickles to the sandwich. Would buy.
Colette Bancroft: They do taste like ham and Swiss, and there's a faint hint of mustard, a whisper of pickle. Close, but no cigar. (See what I did there?)
Carl Lisciandrello: Knowing what it was, I could tell it had hints of mustard with an undertone of dill pickle. But if I didn't know what they were, I'm not sure I would have recognized it as a Cuban sandwich. They're weird enough to be interesting
Lisa Merklin: It tastes very much like any other salty, vinegary, pickle-flavored chip to me. If I strain my taste buds I can almost detect a note of mustard, but that's about it. What's this about ham and Swiss?
Contact Christopher Spata at email@example.com or @SpataTimes on Twitter.