So after getting back from Oxford, I headed down south again – this time to Tampa. I flew to Florida and was suddenly in the land of palm trees and overgrown houseplants – the little, tiny plants we grow in our houses are huge trees in the yards of Floridians.
And there was Raymond James stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and further down the road George Steinbrenner Field – spring training home of the Yankees.
I’ve been through Tampa before, but haven’t spent time there. I’ll admit, I was impressed. My hostess, Susan, was a great tour guide. I was hungry, so we headed to the best Cuban restaurant in West Tampa – an area with a lot of Cuban influence. Being that I’ve been to Cuba, and have truly eaten some indigenous Cuban food, eating at a Cuban sandwich shop sounded fun.
“The Cuban” is a sandwich made of mustard, ham, cheese, pork, thinly-sliced dill pickles and sometimes salami. No one is sure where it came from, but the most accepted story is that it’s the sandwich Cubans ate while working in the sugar-cane fields and cigar factories. When the cigar industry moved to Tampa, the sandwich came with it. Now it is considered the “signature sandwich” of Tampa.
The restaurant doesn’t look like somewhere you’d gravitate to if you didn’t know it was there, but a lot of people DO know it’s there. The parking lot was full and inside most of the tables were also full.
What makes the Cuban sandwich different from a regular ham and cheese sandwich, is the “pressing.” After the sandwich is assembled between two slices of Cuban bread, the whole thing is pressed on a plancha grill … sort of like a panini, but without the grill marks. All in all a fun experience.