Sunday, March 13, 2016

Breaking The Back Of WInter ll

Not everyone shares the same expectations of what a road trip or vacation should be. On our favorite past vacations we chose to explore and see things we would not normally see, going off the beaten path if you will. It's not for us to sit at one resort on a small island, float around on one cruise ship or spend time at one of those guided tour packages for any length of time.

We dedicated one day of our last vacation to explore and experience life in Little Havana near Miami in the city of Hialeah. It felt as if we had left the country for a day. The claim is 75% of Southern Florida residents are Cuban expats. seemed more like 90% to me.

If we were on our own and drove down 8th St. heading east of Miami Int'l I would have turned around and hit the pedal. But my friend, our host and driver, was born in Havana, Cuba in 1954. Currently living in Southwestern Illinois he has excellent connections with relatives and friends in Little Havana. Like many other Cuban expats that land is still a magnet of a place they long to live. Long story short, we were getting the Cuban cook's tour.

Our day began with a visit to Vicki Bakery

It is said this is where the best Cuban pastries in the U.S. are created. Not being a sweet eater I did sample a few and liked the meat filled Pastelitos de Carne best. Nothing like anything I ever tasted before. Leave it to some fat and sugar to bring out the best in a spicy hot meat filled pastry. He purchased a box of mixed goodies to deliver to his 93 year old mother. We visited mom where she lives in the same home she has for the past thirty years. Mom was sharp and gets around better than some sixty year olds I know.

The next stop was the Tropical Restaurant with mom in tow. It is mom's favorite Cuban diner. Everyone ordered something different so we could all share such as the spicy beef churrasco.

I should have ordered an entire plate of that stuff but my focus was on trying the authentic Cuban sandwich too. It is grilled ham, pork and pickle on Cuban bread. It came with fried plantain chips and was way to large for one meal. I kept a half to eat later. BAM!

Next door was a grocery store and I wanted to examine the offerings. Here's something I have never seen here in the midwest - a BOGO (Buy One Get One) promotion for meat. Odd to me only because it isn't easy for two ground meat packages to be the same weight.

Little Havana has the stereotypical image of being a dangerous place but we felt protected being with these friends. A false sense of security? Possibly.Everywhere we went little English was spoken. There was the unavoidable visible urban squalor. Most stores are in strip malls have the endless abundance of tacky Spanish signs for blocks. Almost. Maybe this food truck travels to West Palm Beach too.

There were take out windows facing the sidewalk where you could order a sandwich or a quick shot of espresso. And we did. Hey, all caution to the wind.

Photos posted here are sights that caught my attention. I could have loaded my iPhone with some other highly unusual Little Havana images but preferred to be inconspicuous.

Well, almost all signs were in Spanish.

This time spent was not on my bucket list but in hindsight the visit enriched my life with an unforgettable experience we would not have otherwise had.  And that always makes for a great vacation to us.


Carl from Chicago said...

Sounds like an interesting time and some great food. Always take advantage of the opportunity to see a new part of town with a local you learn a lot. I was afraid of Queens in NYC and we went with a friend who lived there and I had a great time.

When I used to work in El Paso Texas it was with a co-worker from El Salvador who spoke fluent Spanish but often everyone at restaurants and businesses spoke only Spanish and no English and if he wasn't there I would have had to get by with sign language and pointing.

Dan from Madison said...

Very cool. I have always wanted to go to this place. On the sandwich, how were the ham and other pork item prepared? Could you tell what type of cheese it was?

Gerry from Valpo said...

Not a lot of info in that sandwich. The server spoke no English, few people there do. It was very good but not great. We had a much better sandwich at a Cuban cafe in downtown Indianapolis. That one was pressed in hot irons and had a great crust.

At Tropical my mistake was not ordering a full plate of churrasco, the flavor of that stuff was a 10+. Maybe next time.