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Taste of Havana Café offers Cuban cuisine

Combine Christy Cubela’s Cuban accent, a shot of strong Cuban espresso and a little Cuban music and you’ll you feel as if you’re in a café in Havana.

Cubela is manager of A Taste of Havana Café and Bakery in the Lovell Heights shopping center at 10420 Kingston Pike.

Customers in the bright cafe can admire the huge, colorful hand-painted map of Cuba that runs along one wall as they listen to behind-the-counter chatter in Cuban.

The café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Beginning in August, a new cook, Jose, joined the staff. Jose came to the U.S. after living 57 years in Cuba. The baker is Alfredo, also Cuban.

Cubela lived in Cuba until she was 8- years old, when she moved to Miami with her parents. She can still remember her house, school and neighborhood.

“Everything is different here,” she said, “more modern.”

“We don’t have supermarkets like you do here. I would say they’re back like twenty years. Castro has not let it progress. They’re still running around with the old cars back from the fifties and sixties. He wants to keep the island so tight — probably from the United States.

She said Castro is not popular in Cuba, but people can’t say things against him. Her parents have never been back.

“I feel bad. It’s been forty years since they’ve seen their brothers and sisters,” she added.

“I suppose we can go back,” she said, “but it’s different in the sense you’re not allowed to say things that you can here — freedom of speech. If you stay in a hotel in Cuba, your family is not allowed inside the hotel.”

The restaurant offers take-out and catering.

“We have done a few weddings, birthdays and dinners,” she said.

Customers can enjoy a variety of breakfast food along with their café cubano.

“It’s just a little bit more concentrated,” said Cubela of the Bustelo brand coffee that’s ordered from a Cuban manufacturer. “It has a very, very strong aroma.” She noted the next size up from the one-shot espresso is the colada, an eight-shot espresso in a regular cup.

A popular breakfast choice is a pastry with a sweet strawberry-like guava inside. A stuffed potato is another good breakfast choice. The mashed potato is mixed with meat, covered with bread and deep-fried.

Cuban sandwiches are a top pick among lunch customers.

“Our sandwiches are made on Cuban bread with roasted pork, etcetera. They’re put on a flat iron and pressed. So it’s thin and compact. It’s a totally different flavor,” Cubela said.

She suggested trying Bistec a la Milanesa for dinner: steak and cheese covered in egg, bread batter and deep-fried. Roasted pork and beef stew are other good options for the unfamiliar.

“We have many specialties,” said Cubela. Most main dishes come with rice and black or red beans, plantains, tostones or yuccas. Tostone is a green plantain, and a yucca is a root, similar to a potato.

Beginning with Monday, the specials are roasted pork, then steak stew on Tuesday and oxtail on Wednesday.

“It’s is the tail of the ox,” Cubela said. “It’s very tasty if it’s made the right way.”

Thursday’s feature entrée is yellow chicken with rice, spices and olives. Next is Vaca Frita (shredded beef) on Friday.

“We’re famous for that one,” she said.

Saturday’s dish is fried garbonzo in a sauce with ham, pork and Cuban sausage.

She said the restaurant has experimented with having “Domino night” in the past, and plans to try it again. Playing Dominos is very popular in Miami, Cubela said. “There’s a park in Miami where all they do is play dominos, drink coffee and smoke cigars,” she said.

Hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 865-693-4796.


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