More on the Cuban sandwich survey:
First, I’m really glad they didn’t name if Kim’s Kuban Kafe.
Nancy and I were in Key West recently (well, over Christmas), and had a delightful stay with son-in-law Mike’s parents, David and Sue Boyd. They may be the most gracious hosts on earth. If you lead a blameless life and get really, really lucky, you may get to try Sue’s black grouper with some of Mike’s grilled shrimp.
Oh, my goodness. Sensational. Sue and David have no more unmarried children, so a blameless life may be your only hope.
On the way out of town, after a relentless series of delicious meals, I finally got around to trying a Cuban sandwich. I chose Kim’s Kuban, a top-rated place that always seemed to have people eating outside as we drove by, day or night.
Key West is unusual in that … well, a lot of things. For example, I saw a man of advanced years bicycling around town wearing bright red shoes, panties, and a bustier with angels’ wings attached, but no bicycle helmet. You would never see that in Washington. You might see bright red angels’ wings on some bicyclist’s charcoal grey Brooks Brothers suit, but you would never see someone ride a bicycle without a helmet. Even more unusual, Cuban sandwiches in Key West regularly come with lettuce and tomato.
While I like to respect all sorts of individual preferences, that’s just flat wrong. Let’s consider the role of lettuce and tomato on sandwiches. If the tomato did not come from an individual’s garden, the tomato adds only color, which you cannot see while eating the sandwich, and a mushy consistency; but if you like mushy stuff, fine. Lettuce, on the other hand, adds an often welcome freshness and texture — a bit of crunch. If the sandwich is heated, however, the lettuce wilts. A Cuban sandwich is built around hot pork and then pressed to meld the ingredients and add texture (crunch) to the bread. With all that heat coming from inside and outside, the lettuce doesn’t have a chance.
At Kim’s Kuban, lettuce and tomato are offered but not mandatory. It’s a small space in a nondescript shopping center. There are a few seats inside, and six stools outside. The walls are filled with tributes to the Navy and to local first responders. There’s a shelf with various condiments and hand sanitizer.
Everyone there is very nice (I go to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that I am a lawyer) and the service is prompt. I ordered a Cuban sandwich while Nancy waited with grace and dignity.
The sandwich had good bread and very good pork (no sour orange, but very flavorful), ham, mustard, pickle, and, a surprise, American (!) cheese. A much bigger surprise was in store: a few slices of pepperoni down the center of the sandwich. You can see a little slice peeking out. The pepperoni was a little distracting, but it did not undermine the sandwich concept. All in all, it was a very good sandwich; not a classic Cuban, but a very good sandwich.
I also had some rice pudding, mainly because they sell rice pudding. If you go to or near the Kuban Cafe, get some rice pudding. It is far above average, another pleasant Key West surprise.
Of course, you might not end up there. First you want to go to Louie’s Backyard, a wonderful restaurant with a view of the ocean. And you want go to Salute On the Beach, a more casual place situated, well, right on the beach. Order the yellowtail. Both restaurants are excellent. Neither is the sort of place where I feel comfortable whipping out my phone to take pictures and write notes to that I will remember what I ate three months later when I finally get around to writing it up, but take my word for it — both are excellent. And Al Hudson tells me that Sandy’s, famous for the best Cuban coffee in the world, has a great Cuban sandwich. That’s another one for the bucket list.
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