Tampa defends its Cuban sandwich title: The best in the Bay

Wright's Gourmet Cuban Sandwich

Wright’s Gourmet sells 23,000 Cuban sandwiches each year.

Miami has its attributes but can it claim rights to the holy grail of tropical sandwiches?

Ybor City was turning out these banquets on Cuban bread before the turn of the previous century. Early bricklayers  flattened their “mixto’’ sandwiches between hot bricks thus toasting bread, melting cheese, and melding flavors.

But Miami Herald reporter Fabiola Santiago says Tampa has no culinary chops  and started a cat fight about Miami boasting the original. “There’s no doubt that our Cuban sandwich, served all over South Florida, is more authentic and tastier. Even in its Americanized or gourmet incarnations, a cubano in Miami is superior– my Tampa and Miami friends agree,’’ whined Fabiola.

Harrumph!

It’s our peppercorn-speckled Genoa salami, paying tribute to the Italian influence, that gets Fabiola in a dither. Cuban sandwiches also made front page news last week when Tampa City Council showed its prowess by honoring the ham, pork, salami and Swiss cheese choice as numero Uno for the Cigar City.

Wright's Gourmet

Wright’s Jeffrey Mount displays his hefty favorite.

I grew up on the elongated sandwiches from the Silver Ring, but Wright’s holds title today on this pressing matter.

Wrights is right: Wright’s Gourmet House, started in 1963 by Marjorie and Pete Wright, is today’s gold standard. Wright’s took First Place in the Tampa Tribune’s Cuban Sandwich contest for at least six wins. The founders’ grandson, Jeffrey Mount, calculates he sold a whopping 23,362 Cubans last year (each weighs a  substantial 3/4 pound).

Every morning at 4 a.m., La Segundo Central Bakery delivers fresh loaves of Cuban bread for the Wrights elves to load up sandwiches with baked ham, turkey, salami, roast pork, Jarlsberg cheese,  pickles and French’s mustard.

“Miami doesn’t hold a candle to us,’’ says Jeffrey.  “It’s like putting a 2A team up against a major league team,’’ he adds.

Wright’s Gourmet House; 1200 S. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa; (813) 253-3838; www.Wrightsgourmet.com

Other finds:

  • Brocato’s Sandwich Shop; 5021 E. Columbus Dr., Tampa, FL; (813) 248-9977; www.brocato.com

Slow roasted pork makes a good sandwich at this restaurant, open since 1948. The server couldn’t guess how many sandwiches they sell weekly. “Oh Lord, I don’t keep track. I have no time to count.’’

  • Carmine’s Seventh Avenue Restaurant; 1802 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City, FL; (813) 248-3834. Yelp page

First located on Buffalo/Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., this has been a Cuban sandwich stop for some 30 years. Order a sandwich, a café con leche, and a lotto ticket for the house trifecta.

  • Museum Café; 10466 W. Yulee Dr.; Homosassa, FL;  (352) 628-1081. Urban Spoon page

Jim Anderson grew up in Ybor City and says he knows the real thing.  Genoa salami, ham, and his signature, mojo-marinated pork make his Cuban sandwiches special. You’ll never encounter mayonnaise, lettuce or tomatoes, on his sacred classic.

Feeding the Westshore crowd since ’09 and Treasure Island beach residents since ’93, manager Matt Stevens says he buys the best ingredients he can get his hands on. He sold 663 Cuban sandwiches last week; a 10-inch, 15-ounce sandwich costs $7.

+++++

A dissenting tale from across the Bay:

Josefa “Jo’’ Gonzalez, chef and owner of Habana Café in Gulfport, doesn’t buy Tampa’s salami addition. Hers are boiled ham, pressed pork, regular Swiss, mustard, hamburger-pickle Cubans, La Segundo Bakery bread, which she presses with a little butter. She sells about 1,000 half sandwiches each week.

“Adding salami is silly,’’ she says.  The author of an award-winning cookbook, “The Habana Cafe Cookbook,’’ bristles if someone wants lettuce or tomato on her version.

Habana Café; 5402 Gulfport Blvd. South; St Petersburg, FL; (727) 321-8855; www.habanacafe-usa.com

+++++

Price Evans plates miniature beef, pork and pine nut-Picadillo sliders.

SideBern’s is hardly constrained by tradition.  The pressed salami, pork belly, manchego cheese, and gruyere choice, slathered with truffle mustard, was an appetizer at Bern’s Winefest Soiree. SideBern’s lowered the lights and turned itself into an annex of old Ybor with live salsa, a cigar roller, and Latin cocktails.  Chefs grilled shrimp with crab enchilada then placed on garlic toast, enhanced Eggplant Ravioli with chilies, capers and ricotta; and combined arugula, feta and white truffle fonduta in rabbit calzone. Miniature pine nut-studded beef and pork Picadillo Burgers nestled between pate-a-choux buns. Tiny Pina Colada Push Ups were fun bites. Save the date for next year’s festival: April 19-22.

+++++

Best bet between the buns: A competition between chefs for Best Beef Burger and the Best Other-Than-Beef Burger is at Curtis Hixon Park on May 4. The event, to raise money for Friends of the Riverwalk, includes Mayor Bob Buckhorn as honorary chair. There is a People’s Choice Award, too. Get information: www.BurgerShowdown.org

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6 comments to Tampa defends its Cuban sandwich title: The best in the Bay

  • Cat Thompson

    My preference is for what used to be called the especial- done at several of the smaller mom and pop shops. The marinated pork was fresh, and they drizzled some of the juices over the meats before putting the top bread slice on. Now, that was yummy!!!!!

  • Buffy

    Does anyone know where I can get a REAL Cuban sandwich near Indian Rocks Beach? I miss Tampa’s Cubans!

  • Jack Wyatt

    This article should be used as guide for our RNC visitors. Good job zeroing in on the best.

  • Carl Brown

    Born and raised in Tampa, and I must cast my vote for Tampa Cubans. They’re the Best in the Bay and beyond. I think you get some of the best from little corner stores that make the real, authentic ones.

  • R. Hall

    I am surprised that the article did not include this years Cuban Sandwich winner at the Cuban Sandwich Festival in Ybor in May 2012. 40 restaurants competed, yet the winner is not noted in this article. Seriously?! By the way, the winner in the traditional Cuban Sandwich Category was Michelle Fuedo’s on the Go. Yes, a food truck. Fuedo’s was famous for its devil crab cakes in ybor for decades, which they still make by hand and sell out of their food truck now. Both are excellent. Their daily locations can be found on Facebook. Seriously, when one beats 40 other restaurants in a category, one deserve to be mentioned in an article about that category, whether you agree with the judges or not. Just saying.

  • mary scourtes

    thanks for comments; my story ran April 25 long before the contest

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