Current events concerning the recognition of Cuba after 50 years of embargo have encouraged me to break my silence about the harmful effects US policy may have had upon this country. You see, I fancy myself a connoisseur of the Cuban. As a young man in Panama City I was spoiled by easy access to the 2 for $1 Cubans sold from a small stand on the main drag. These were wonders to behold. Thin slices of "meat" and cheese surrounded by fresh and thin bread with little or no condiments. They were lovingly made and sold by a refugee Cuban family and were manna from heaven to a working man with a voracious tapeworm.
This was a decade after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and in at least one northwest Florida city (What? you thought I was talking about Central America?) you could find at least one place that could produce an authentic Cuba sandwich. Alas, when I matriculated to the Gump in the 60s, after an exhaustive search for anything approaching the Cuban sandwich of my past, I gave up and relegated myself to the next best thing: the Combination sandwich from Pasquales, the Sahara and finally Corsinos.
|The Grand Opening of the Sahara--forerunner of Corsinos--where you could get a Combo sandwich in lieu of a Cuban.|
But fast forward under forty years of embargo. Our brave secretary of state and Vietnam war hero John Kerry now says the embargo harmed America more than Cuba just like building the Berlin Wall hurt East Germany more than the West. Well, as ridiculous as that may sound, there is at least one instance where the embargo hurt the US more than Cuba: We have no decent Cubans up here in the Gump. Good maybe. But all the great ones are in Florida.
My brother--a foppish dandy named Basil--has retired with his wife to an upscale "seniors" community near Tampa. He knows that every time I visit I have to go to the original Columbia restaurant in Ybor City for my Cuban fix. Of course, there they include salami along with the traditional ham and sliced pork which is sometimes called the Tampa variation. But the mix of Swiss cheese and pickles on the thinly sliced Cuban bread makes a visit to the Columbia a must for me.
There have been heroic attempts to develop Cuban sandwiches here in the Gump and we thank all of those who tried. We mentioned the decent Cuban sandwich at The Wagon Wheel in our very first post back in 2009. That year we reviewed the better Cuban at The Wishbone Cafe. In 2011 we mentioned the ill-conceived Cuban "pannini" at the now-defunct Alley Deli. We explored the "Torta Cubana" at the Latino Super Market Taqueria y Restaurant but--as should be plain--that is not a Cuban sandwich but a Central American sexist parody of Cuban women. In 2012 we thought we finally had hit it big with the Cuban sandwich from the Cantina in the Alley. Unfortunately, the owner died soon after it opened and they closed down. Even the old Olive Room had a fairly good Cuban on the lunch menu back when it was a going concern. Recently, we noted the Ricky Ricardo Cuban Sandwich at Chappy's as a good effort.
But something, perhaps as says John Kerry (Vietnam war hero), was lacking because of the embargo? Were we too many generations removed from real Cuban sandwiches to replicate the originals here in the Gump?
I, obviously, do not pretend to know or understand how the exercise of presidential fiat resulting in the normalization of relations with Cuba will play out. But now with all the uproar concerning the unilateral executive action taken regarding Cuba without Congressional approval aside, I am somewhat hopeful that the normalization of relations with Cuba will eventually lead to the availability of Cuban cigars and authentic Cuban sandwiches in the Gump that will rival the Columbia or Las Olas Cafe on South Beach.
To land this plane let me tell you that it was ironic that today, the dawning of a new age in U.S./Cuban relations, my brother decided to torture me with a text and picture of his Cuban sandwich and 1905 salad from the original Columbia restaurant. To which I thoughtlessly replied, "We just don't have any decent Cubans up here." After sending that text I chuckled to myself that someone might take that the wrong way....