Another reason to go to South Florida, as if you needed another one this time of year, is the Cuban food, especially the Cuban-style roasted pork. Cuban pork gets its distinctive flavor from marination in mojo, a mixture of a bulb or three of garlic, sour orange juice (not orange juice that has soured, but the juice of sour oranges, or naranjas ágrias, or citrus x aurantium — the oranges used in marmalade), garlic, olive oil, garlic, and some black pepper and oregano. The garlic part should be easy for any restaurant to figure out, but a surprising number of places stay their hand at the crucial moment. Even more fail to use sour orange juice. Mixing regular orange juice with lemon or lime juice just doesn’t do it.
Cuban restaurants are concentrated in the Miami-Dade, with diminishing numbers north into Broward (Fort Lauderdale) and Palm Beach Counties. Others are here and there. There’s a good one over on the Gulf side, in Naples.
The Rumba Cafe is in a shopping center on Airport Road, well inland from posh Naples. You can sit at a nondescript but pleasant table inside, or at a table outside. Despite the parking lot view, the outside tables are pleasant, too, in the lovely Florida winter weather; but the pleasant part comes not just from the weather, but also the service, and, most of all, the food.
That’s the pork, roasted, pulled, and run under the boiler. It is delicious, a wonderful combination of the flavors of pork, garlic, and sour orange, with a hint of black pepper and just a touch of oregano. This is one of the world’s great pork dishes prepared very well.
It isn’t all pork there. Here’s Nancy’s chicken, a breast butterflied and pounded flat, marinated in mojo, and grilled with onions.
What a contrast to the usual flavorless chicken breast! These are both lunch specials. They also have a dinner menu with more formal plates, and they serve a whole range of Cuban dishes, including seafood. Nancy and I don’t usually order dessert, but Nancy (the world’s premier expert on custards of all kinds) and I can assure you, based on multiple tests, that the Rumba Cafe has excellent flan and tres leches. And they have Presidente, the best hot weather pilsner in the islands.
It being a bit of a hike from our regular spot in Marco Island to Naples, we’ve only gone to the Rumba Cafe for lunch, either on a day visit to Naples or on our way to or from the airport up in Ft. Myers, aka Southwest Florida International Airport, where friends often arrive. Then it’s back to one of the seafood restaurants in Goodland and Marco. We love for friends to fly into Ft. Myers.
The Rumba Cafe is a gem. I’ve begged the owner to open a branch in here Washington, but the closest he’s come is a second location in the northeast part of Naples. We’ll be heading to Marco Island again soon, and I look forward to another trip or three to the Rumba Cafe.