Thursday, February 11, 2010
Lessons Of Life, Like Rules, Are Meant To Be Broken: A Great Cuban Sandwich In Texas
One of the things which life has taught me, is that the farther away you get from the original of something, the less likely it is to be as good. But, the lessons of life, like rules, are sometimes meant to be broken.
An older brother of mine, Rick, introduced me to my first Cuban sandwich at a place in Tampa many years ago. That place was called Hugo’s Spanish Restaurant. And, although that was a mighty long time ago, it was a mighty fine sandwich, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Of course, like all historically popular foods, there is disagreement over what constitutes the “real” Cuban sandwich. To determine what was in the original sandwich, you need to look back to the geographical source. I’m not sure if anyone can legitimately determine whether the sandwich itself actually originated in Cuba, Tampa, or somewhere else in Florida. But, since Florida is less than 100 miles away from Cuba, I’m not going to spend a lot of time quibbling about it here.
I believe, right or wrong, that traditionally, a true Cuban sandwich consists of the basic components of Cuban bread (sometimes sliced at an angle), roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, very thinly sliced dill pickles, and mustard. In some cases, mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce are added. What Cuban sandwiches all have in common, is that they are heated and pressed in a hot iron press.
Over the years, as I have sought out other Cuban sandwiches around the country, I have often been disappointed. In many cases, while the sandwiches may have had the correct basic ingredients, they also had the very “life” squeezed out of them by some overzealous restaurant employee operating the hot press. The end result, were sandwiches with bread so hard it could crack a tooth, and meat absolutely devoid of any moisture whatsoever. To make matters worse, the sandwiches were often served with a side of potato chips. I don’t claim to be an expert on Cuban cuisine, but I can’t believe that potato chips are on the list. Like I mentioned earlier, the farther away you get from the original of something, the less likely it is to be as good. But, of course, there are exceptions.
It is not surprising that I found an excellent Cuban sandwich being served up out of a trailer in Austin, Texas. Austin is a town which prides itself on being different and weird, but it is also a town filled with both a lot of young entrepreneurs and a lot of trailer food. When entrepreneurs, trailers, and food combine, the results are often spectacular.
The Texas Cuban Sandwich trailer has been located on Austin’s South Lamar Boulevard since September of 2009. Relative newcomers to the trailer food offerings in South Austin, the two young entrepreneurial owners have quickly established themselves and have built quite a following. There is little wonder why. Whether you are eating a Cuban sandwich for the first time, or have eaten hundreds of them over the years, this sandwich is worthy of mention.
The menu is rather limited, but by no means is that an impediment. This is, after all, a small trailer, and not a sit down restaurant. The focus, as it should be, is on the sandwich. The “Texas Cuban,” as you would expect, is an oversized Cuban sandwich reflecting the size of Texas itself. The smaller, “El Cubano,” is what I ordered, and unless you are sharing the sandwich with someone, or have a Texas-sized appetite, it is big enough for one person. The sandwich has all the ingredients which you would expect in a traditional Cuban, including, pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly sliced deli-style crunchy pickles. Mayo and mustard, however, are served on the side. But, there are some differences. The pressed Cuban bread, while correctly cut, is flavored with garlic, and, in addition to the Swiss cheese, provolone cheese is also added. Since I’m a fan of both, I liked this “twist” to the traditional sandwich. The best thing of all was how moist the sandwich was. While the bread was nicely pressed, the meats and pickles inside were unbelievably moist.
Every Cuban sandwich from the trailer is served with fried plantain chips. The chips were thin, crispy, and salty, and provided a perfect complement to the sandwich. The sandwich aside, I could easily go back just for the plantain chips. If you want a beverage, you pull it out of an ice box which sits outside next to the ordering window.
What a great sandwich coming from a couple of guys operating out of a trailer. Despite the fact that Texas is across the Gulf of Mexico from both Cuba and Florida, the distance has not changed the quality of this Cuban sandwich one bit.