Crunchy, creamy, crabby? Yup, it was a deviled crab. It was also the first thing we bit into at Cuban Breezes. How did we end up there? I don’t really know. But I do know that the deviled crab was being devoured, getting picked at from all sides by dueling forks. The croquette’s hardened shell was defenseless against the relentless assault. Poor thing didn’t last long. Soon, a debris of crumbs littered the plate, their dark brown stark against the white of the ceramic. It was but the beginning.
Laura had ordered a small cup of soup, the caldo gallego, which roughly translates into “the treasure of the tongue.” Ok, so it doesn’t even remotely translate to that, but it should. The cup was virtually overflowing with soft white beans. The Galician broth (the true translation) had leached both color and flavor from the white beans, combining it with the saltiness of the pork and the minerals of the leafy green to make something truly exquisite! You could taste the attention that went into this homemade soup. If there was one item on the menu I would say you must order, this would be it! Yes, the humble caldo gallego has gone from starter to star, achieving greatness in the hands of their chef!
Laura’s main dish was the Hawaiin Cuban. (Somebody had to get a Cuban, it WAS a Cuban restaurant, after all, and would have been like going to an Italian restaurant and no one ordering pasta.) This sandwich typically comes served on sweet bread that is then pressed. Because of the sugar in the bread, it can become dark brown to black, carrying a slight burnt flavor to it when pressed. If you love it, go for the sweet bread, it’s sweeter flavor is meant to go with the cooked pineapple rings sheltering in it’s loaves. If you prefer as Laura did, they will gladly swap out the sweet bread for a standard Cuban’s white bread. Mild ham and grilled pineapple rings, shredded pork and melted cheese, sharp pickles and stony mustard, all the ingredients had their date to the prom, with the bread acting as chaperone. A delicious dance, to be sure.
My feast was the guava BBQ ribs! I went with the traditional sauce over the mojo as I’ve never been a giant fan of mojo on most dishes. The waitress had said they were fall off the bone ribs. She wasn’t lying! I left no single scap of meat on any of the rib bones, but I didn’t even pick up the ribs with my hands. Simply by pushing gently at the meat with my fork it slid off cleanly in chunks both large and small. The ribs had been seasoned and those small bits that weren’t coated in BBQ sauce were equally tasty with a completely different flavor profile, more like a mild herbal rub mixed with dried spices. The sauce was thick and had the sweetness both Laura and I appreciate without becoming sugary. After all, guava is a traditional island additive, and it pairs well with almost anything savory. The yellow rice was superbly cooked, being fluffy and not sticking together in the least. The roll was a nice piece of bread, with a soft center and chewy crust, perfect for cleansing your pallet in between bites to allow you to savor the flavors all over again. And then there was the beans. Both Laura and I tasted something unique about them, as if they were soaked in cooking wine or sherry, but the waitress insisted they were simply pressed beans. You’ll have to taste them for yourselves and post a comment for me, let me know your thoughts on those mysterious, black beans. I think they’re hiding a secret.
As a side, I also ordered the fried plantains. Who could resist? The sweet banana flavor was partially caramelized and fried to a lovely brown. They’re a family favorite of ours and we made quick work of them. (You know you would, too.)
Cuban Breezes may be in a strip mall, but that doesn’t mean it’s got a stripped down taste. The food is true to its roots while hedging in a few modern twists to reel in the next generation of tasters and diners. True, nowadays I could get on a plane, fly to Cuba, and have a meal there, but let’s face it, I’m lazy, plan rides suck, and I can just go eat at Cuban Breezes as it’s a whole lot closer to home and a heck of a lot cheaper to get to. I’ll meet you there.
13980 W. Hillsborough Ave.
Tampa, FL 33635