Tag Archives: Cuban Sandwich

From Concord, with love…

7 May

We had a grand adventure this weekend featuring things we love. Allow me to tell you a story…

It all started when we were invited to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday at Piedmont Social House. We had a great time at the party, but happening at the same time was Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals, featuring our team, the Tampa Bay Lightning (Go Bolts!). There was still one period left of the game once the party wrapped up, so we headed over to Carolina Beer Temple at Arysley to watch.

Living in Indian Trail, we never travel to this side of Charlotte, so we’ve never been to the Arysley version of Beer Temple. Having spent more time than is probably healthy at all the other locations in the Beer Temple/Temple Mojo/Seaboard family, we knew not to expect a sports bar. But the game was on, even if the sound wasn’t, service was fast and friendly, the beer list was extensive, and there was another hockey fan hanging out across the bar.

We settled in, ordered some beers, and watched the Lightning do their thing against the Boston Bruins. And that’s when we met Reynolds, the hockey fan from across the bar. Reynolds is a Penguins fan, and he soon asked if he could join us to watch the game since hockey is definitely better if you’re watching it as a crowd. The discussion didn’t take long to turn from hockey to breweries to food, and he told us about his favorite Cuban restaurant in the Charlotte area: Havana Carolina.

The Lightning won in overtime, we were drinking great beer and cider, and we were meeting new people. Spirits were high, and Reynolds waxed poetic about this place. Working off a buzzy, post-hockey-win high, we decided that we would go on an adventure the following day.

We don’t know much about Concord, to be honest. We’re aware there’s NASCAR and an outlet mall. We shopped at the Depot Antique Mall a while back and even visited High Branch Brewing a few months ago. But it’s about a 40-minute drive from Indian Trail, so getting there takes a bit of planning and commitment on our part.

The plan we hatched was simple – head up to Concord for the afternoon, hit up a few breweries, and then end the evening at Havana Carolina for dinner. Easy, right?

The following day, we set our plan into motion. Before getting into beer, we knew we needed some sustenance. We didn’t want to drive all the way to Concord until we had food in our bellies, so we decided to begin our adventure closer to home at one of our favorite restaurants, The Loyalist Market, in downtown Matthews.

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The world’s fanciest fried bologna sandwich 😉

Look at this fried bologna sandwich. This is a sandwich that you only get if you ask for it and if you’re lucky enough for the ingredients to be in stock. The Loyalist Market works hard to keep everything fresh, so having mortadella isn’t always a given. That’s why this sandwich started as a special but isn’t on the regular menu. And it’s the fanciest fried bologna you’ve ever eaten, with Creminelli mortadella, spicy Korean mustard from Burnt & Salty, Duke’s mayo, kettle chips, greens, and cheddar, all on sourdough bread (locally baked, of course).

By the way, you can purchase many of the ingredients for this sandwich at The Loyalist Market. They make amazing sandwiches, but their primary focus is on cheese, charcuterie, and other local/regional products that you can buy to take home. If you enjoy meat and cheese art, check out their Instagram.

We Googled and plotted our Concord afternoon while chowing down on this beautiful sandwich and what we learned was this: there are five breweries in Concord. Back in the day, we would have thrown caution to the wind trying to visit all five, but we’re older and know better now, so we settled on three: Twenty-Six Acres Brewing Company, Cabarrus Brewing Company, and High Branch Brewing Company.

First stop: Twenty-Six Acres. Fun fact, the brewery is named after the size of the original town limits: 26 Acres. Another fun fact, it’s situated behind the NASCAR Research and Development facility. This fun fact would have been helpful for us to know beforehand, which is why we’re sharing it with you. We missed the turn for the brewery because we were distracted by the NASCAR building and didn’t see the teeny-tiny Twenty-Six Acres sign.

The taproom is beautiful, with high ceilings and lots of gorgeous tile/woodwork. You can tell that lots of love and care went into conceptualizing and building this place. There are a few games to play (dogs and kids are welcome) but there’s also a small “Chill Zone”. We opted for flights to get a taste of what they offered and found a few beers we enjoyed as they warmed up. Overall, a good first stop.

 

Our next stop was Cabarrus Brewing Company. It just so happens that we stopped by during the Concord Micro-Con. There were a ton of vendors selling comic-related products, folks running around in superhero costumes, and an overall atmosphere of mayhem (I mean that in the best way possible!). Despite having an event going on, the space is large enough that it didn’t feel crowded, and we found a great table overlooking the patio. The Sew Juicy IPA was delicious.

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Our final beer stop before Havana Carolina was High Branch Brewing Company, which is right across the patio from Cabarrus Brewing. We’ve visited this brewery before, and loved everything they had on tap during that trip. This time was no different. It’s a small space, but it’s gorgeous, and you have the option to sit inside or on the patio.

 

There should be more pictures of High Branch because these definitely don’t do the space justice. We have no excuse except that we were focused on the beer and forgot to snap any good shots. We drank the Hello Cerise, which is a dark sour aged in red wine barrels with cherries, and the Promise Ring, a hazy IPA. Both were quite good, but we were also distracted by the promise of Cuban food. After one drink, we decided to continue on to our original goal destination: Havana Carolina.

Growing up in Florida exposes one to a number of things: alligators, love bugs, cockroaches that fly…but also good things too, like Cuban food. Even at non-Cuban restaurants, island influence on Tampa cuisine is strong. Those who know me know that I have some feelings about Cuban sandwiches, which most of Charlotte doesn’t seem to quite understand. But that’s okay – I’m still trying to wrap my head about Duke’s mayonnaise and putting coleslaw on hamburgers, so we’re even I guess?

Getting to Havana Carolina is easy since it’s in historic downtown Concord. There’s street parking, but if you can’t find a spot there’s a free public parking deck about a block away. The Carolina Havana storefront isn’t actually on the street, it’s within another building, but signage is good and it’s a piece of cake to find.

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We didn’t have to wait to be seated, but according to many Yelp reviews, sometimes you might need to wait for quite some time before a table opens up. We started off with the carafe of Sangria (because how could you not?) along with the Cubanitas sampler, which was described as Cuban-style croquettes filled with ham and served with a cilantro dipping sauce. Apologies, we just dove right into the hammy goodness and failed to snap a shot of it, but here’s the sangria:

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Don’t worry, this sangria won’t give you monster-sized hands 😉

The sangria is a little more dry than sweet, so we loved it. All those cut up bits of fruit also make you feel as if you’re doing something healthy. Not really, but you tell yourself what you have to. That entire carafe, which was so large we were unable to finish it, was roughly $13.

On to the entrees! Since this was our first visit, we decided to go with our favorite dishes: the Cuban sandwich and Picadillo.

 

We enjoy making picadillo at home, but never seem to let it cook long enough to develop the stew-like authentic flavor that we crave. Our picadillo is definitely better the second day…if we don’t eat it all on the first. If you’re curious about recipes, we like to use this masterpiece by Arroz y Frijoles.

Havana Carolina’s picadillo tastes like it’s supposed to – the flavors are really well developed, and the meat has a great texture. This is a helping of “come-over-here-and-relax” comfort food. Along with some rice, black beans, and fried sweet plantains – Heaven.

Havana Carolina knows what they’re doing with a Cuban sandwich. Roasted pork with ham, Swiss, mustard, and pickles, on pressed Cuban bread. Notice the mayonnaise as a garnish. There’s a bit of a debate as to whether a Cuban sandwich should have mayo or not, and I appreciate Havana Carolina is erring on the side of “let’s all get along.”

For dessert, there were a ton of fun options to choose from, and in keeping with the classics, we chose flan.

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So. Darn. Good.

Service was friendly, decor was tropical, and the music was Cuban. All the dishes we saw coming out of the kitchen looked delicious, and all around us were people enjoying good food and fellowship.

Havana Carolina points out on their menu that the most important ingredient in each recipe is “love” and after eating here, we are definitely in love with this place.

And in that spirit, I realize it was love that got us here. We went to a neighborhood we never hang out in to celebrate with a friend, and then met a person who is as passionate about sports, beer, and food as we are. The enthusiasm and love he used in describing this restaurant convinced us we needed to travel out of our way to try it, and in the process we also got to try some great beers created by people who love their craft. And our day came full circle at Havana Carolina, where love is an essential ingredient.

That, my friends, is a weekend well spent. Much love to you all.

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Cubano

10 Jun

Psssst.  Charlotte. Hey, Charlotte. Look at this. LOOK. AT. THIS.

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Do you know what this is?  Do you?

It’s a Cuban Sandwich.

Do you know what goes on a Cuban Sandwich?

Sliced ham, sliced roasted pork, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and sliced pickles. If you’re a girl from the Tampa Bay area, like me, you also get some salami. Cuban sandwiches were born in Tampa, if you didn’t know. If you’re from Miami you put some mayo on there.  No biggie.

But Charlotte, you know what doesn’t go on a Cuban sandwich?

  • Lettuce (NEVER do this. Ever.)
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Dijon mustard
  • Spicy mustard
  • Jalepenos
  • Grill marks (because it’s pressed, you know?)

Pork is preferably roasted and sliced, not pulled or chopped. And please, please make it on Cuban bread. Pretty please?

Not saying these things aren’t tasty on a sandwich, because they are. They just don’t go on a Cuban sandwich.

Not gonna lie, it drives me a little crazy that the North Carolina version of a Cuban sandwich is heavy on pulled pork. Pulled pork is just so dang ubiquitous here, that it seems like most restaurateurs never question whether or not it belongs on this type of sandwich.

And for those that would sully greatness by adding lettuce (::cough cough:: Midwood Smokehouse) please stick to what you know (and do well), and leave Cuban sandwiches to those who care to do it right. At some point your “Southern twist” on the Cuban sandwich makes it not a Cuban any more.

The beauty above comes from a tiny shop in Largo, FL, called Havana Harry’s Market. If you’re down that way, definitely stop in on your way to the beach, the sandwiches are legit. You can pick up some black beans and rice and Cigar City beer while you’re there.

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Diggin’ that ‘do, Harry

Not that all Cuban sandwiches in the Charlotte Metro area are terrible. There’s a Colombian bakery in Stallings called Lucy’s Bakery & Deli. Sandwiches are made with mojo pork, sometimes sliced, sometimes shredded. They also sell guava and cheese turnovers, so it’s hard to get mad about the shredded pork. And the owners are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I feel a little like I’m back in Florida every time I go.

I’m generally okay with a chef putting his/her own spin on a dish, especially a spin that brings it closer to the amazing Southern cuisine we can get here in Charlotte. But some things are better left un-spun.

Just my two cents.

 

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