Pin It
Submit to Reddit
Favorite

Mambo jumbo: A Piece of Havana 

Cuban food has never found a prominent place among ethnic cuisine offerings in the Q.C. Sure, we have an outpost or two -- most notably the stunning Siboney, which came and left several years ago. That spot emphasized the varied cuisine which Cuba enjoyed before the revolution, a time when Cubans had money. Suarez Bakery in Park Road Shopping Center has been baking Cuban bread since Carlos Suarez bought the old Federal Cake Shoppe.

But people who relocate here from south Florida, which has a thriving Cuban expat community, are perplexed that Cuban cuisine is not more common. Beyond a Cuban sandwich and a bowl of black bean soup, not much of that island's cuisine shows up in the Piedmont, and when it does, it tends to be on a random Latinized menu for mass appeal. That seems odd. Cuban music is certainly recognizable. Who would confuse Mexican ranchera music with mambo? As with its music, Cuban cuisine represents the melding of cultures.

The cuisine of the indigenous Siboney -- or Ciboney in English -- which inhabited that Caribbean island when Christopher Columbus arrived from Europe in 1492, was based primarily on fruits and roots. Principal ingredients included fish -- Cuba encompasses 4,000 islands and cays -- native corn, peanuts, yucca (cassava), and bonaito (a sweet potato). To this, the Spanish added meat, including pork and beef, as well as rice and olive oil. As the ruling class, they also brought with them European preparations such paella and the Spanish-styled tortilla, an omelette. Africans brought plantains. Thus, Cuban cuisine is more similar to Puerto Rican cuisine than to Latin American cuisine and is punctuated with herbs and spices, garlic and olive oil, not chilies.

Last November, a native Cuban family, Belkis and Juan Plasencia, and her parents Carlos Alvarez and Maura Diaz, relocated to Charlotte after a time in Deerfield Beach (near Boca Raton), Fl., and opened the 96-seat A Piece of Havana: Authentic Cuban Cuisine.

A Piece of Havana is located in an austere shopping center, which although fairly new has already been bypassed for a newer, larger shopping center further on the western fringes of South Tryon. Within the expanse of the ultra-themed dining area are softly glowing chandeliers and old-styled ceiling fans. One back wall boasts a lively mural of a Cuban street scene, while two others are framed with windows. Leather seat backs are rustically tooled with the name of the restaurant and palm trees.

To the right of the door are two wooden dominoes tables with racks, cup holders, and Spanish score pads; a large dark bar area; a side table utilizing an old wooden Cuban cigar box as a base of the lamp; and the take-out and coffee-to-go bar. The main dining room offers a dance floor: Live music is here Friday and Saturday nights. On other nights, canned Cuban music greets you and transports you as far as it can into a Cuban experience.

In the kitchen are a Cuban and a Peruvian chef, and the lengthy menu is in both Spanish and English with English descriptions. Depending on your server, more information can be forthcoming.

The food at Havana interrupts the happy attention to detail of the dining room. Some dishes are nicely cooked and flavored with garlic and herbs, while others miss the mark entirely. Of the appetizers, the expertly crafted Cuban-styled empanadas are worthy of a go while the ham and chicken croquettes seemed wan by comparison. Health-conscious eaters may feel sabotaged by the fried pork bits and malanga chips, which had both spent way too much time in the fryer.

Some entrées are fraught with challenges. The ubiquitous palomilla, an extremely thin cut of beef and a Cuban bellwether dish, was tough and overcooked. The marinated chicken was also disappointingly dry. Better was the shrimp smothered in a garlicky olive oil. Clearly, the kitchen expresses itself better with classics: luxuriant sweet maduros and moros y cristianos, or the Moors and the Christians. Here, the mellow black beans are mixed with the white rice for a lesson in Spanish history.

Sandwiches, which are served throughout the day, are first-rate, especially the Cuban sandwich with roasted pork, ham, baby Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Also good is "Grandma's" soup laced with vermicelli noodles and large bits of chicken.

Entrée prices range from $7.95 for Cuban spaghetti to $18.95 for a grilled Cuban-styled lobster. Sandwiches are $5.95 to $7.95.

Although A Piece of Havana has brought along familiar dishes, there are too many mishaps among the dinner entrées. However, a well-done lunch goes far to compensate.

Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? To contact Tricia, send information via e-mail (no attachments, please -- these are destined for the spam filter) for publication online:

tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

Pin It
Submit to Reddit
Favorite

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Search Events

www.flickr.com
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2017 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation