I grew up in Tampa and the quintessential sandwich was called the Cuban. In its pristine form, it included sliced pork, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and ballpark mustard. Naturally, it was made with Cuban bread (palm frond removed) and pressed on a griddle. I’m told that on the TV show, Dexter, which takes place in Miami, that Cubans are now called “pork sandwiches.” I’m told this by my husband, who is a Dexter fanatic and also knows of my love for Cubans (the sandwich, not the people of Cuba who I am also quite fond of). Is this a subtle political statement? Do Cubans (the people) now object to Cubans (the sandwich)?
Growing up in Tampa, Cubans were everywhere. We had them in the cafeteria at Coleman Junior High School, where they were served cold and not pressed but were still delicious. You could find them premade at Publix, also cold and not pressed but you just had to take them home and put them in a skillet with a heavy weight to take care of that. You could find them on every street corner in Ybor City, the old Cuban historic part of Tampa. But the best place to find them was (and still is) at the Alessi Bakery at 2909 W. Cyprus.
The Alessi Bakery is a testiment to all things Cuban, Italian and Tampa. A huge array of pastries, cakes and cookies; a pizza that I believe is unique to Tampa (it’s featured at every child’s birthday party), a cafeteria line with arroz con pollo, ropa vieja and other Cuban specialties and the aforementioned Cuban.
Even after I moved away after college, I would visit Tampa and my high school friends and we’d always end up at Alessi’s prior to our annual Beach Weekend (must have pizza and beer for the 45 minute trip to Reddington Shores). I’d make another trip on my way to the airport to get two Cubans to take on the plane. Everyone on the flight was jealous (I think).
So I’m a little confused and offended that now on national television, the Cuban has become the “pork sandwich,” which speaks nothing of its history or continuing popularity. What got me on this rant tonight is that I’m making Cuban sandwiches with some leftover pork roast, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and ballpark mustard. I have Cuban bread from the Publix in Brentwood, amazing that a grocery store in Tennessee carries it. I will put the sandwiches together and press them in my panini press and remember that I am not just eating a “pork sandwich”. I am eating history.