I had noticed recently there seems to be a lot of establishments offering a Cuban sandwich lately. I have even found myself attempting to give ‘er a go by preparing the first stage of my creativity, in hopes of having another opportunity to finish it (building and eating the sandwich) soon after the smoked Easter ham has been hacked up. Then all I’ll need to do is find the right Swiss cheese, Kosher pickle and proper roll since the mustard should be as plain as can be. Probably press it all between two cast-iron skillets. That’s my interpretation of a classic that has fascinated me since watching the movie “Chef”. The preview night of that movie in Orange County had the small group of us four scrambling toward an undisclosed Los Angeles location to hunt one down to satisfy our “gotta have”. Since then I have noticed more and more quick-serve and sit down eateries have the “Cuban” featured on their menu.
The movie “Chef” is about an aspiring chef on the verge of becoming great in this current social media age. That chef, played by Jon Favreau (also the director) taught his son how to make a Cuban sandwich as part of his roots inspired menu aboard the newly created food truck he had set up after being ousted by the General Manager and Owner (Dustin Hoffman) of the restaurant that began to make a name for him. In the movie, the food truck “El Jefe” now serves up Cubans as a staple of the food that Chef Carl Casper had grown up with. I thought the movie to be fun, entertaining with nuances of the restaurant business that seemed fitting at the time of my culinary education. I still enjoy the the movie today.
Well, a recent notification on social media about a restaurant closure nearby where I work had me scrambling to wish the owner and chef the best of luck last week. It seemed they had just opened that brick and mortar restaurant less than a full year ago. I’m not sure of the circumstances that evolved around the restaurant closure, but the restaurant had started first as a food truck making authentic New York style deli sandwiches with modern culinary twists from various inspirations the chef had brought along the way. That chef is how I first met the staff at New York on Rye. I met the chef and once wrote a story about his operation https://critdicks.com/2012/09/25/haulin-ass-i-mean-hall-and-oats-ooops/. I was very happy when they decided to open a brick and mortar delicatessen and their then truck commissary just down the street from my daily workplace. Don’t get me wrong, the sandwiches were probably not the best thing for my weight and health (grilled Pastrami, Corned Beef, grilled Rueben and the grilled Corned Beef Hash burrito) but they were the certainly the best . . . and probably still are the best Jewish style New York deli sandwiches in San Diego.
After reading about their brick and mortar closure I decided to pay a quick visit in transit to another work location while they still had their food truck outside the store front before seeing their customers off. When I visited that day I had noticed they added house-smoked regulars of brisket and pulled pork to the menu. I know these are popular menu items from BBQ venues and trucks in the San Diego region but I didn’t expect to see them from a New York deli. I also know that New York on Rye once had a smoke trailer they had experimented with in the past, but had abandoned that idea before opening the place in Miramar. Another item I noticed on their menu was a Cuban sandwich. Now I don’t ever recall seeing this on their menu, nor did I eat there too often (read above . . . ), but I would have eaten the Cuban had I known they had one, and Chef Rich Huarte would have probably pointed it out, since I have had almost everything else on their menu at one point in time by his recommendation.
Well I think the Cuban sandwich has permanently created an opportunity for me to look for this food truck again in the future. I didn’t get to eat one this day, since I had little time having to make haste and get to my meeting in another area of San Diego; you see the New York on Rye truck was just setting up after some required inspections that day, and I just had poor timing and couldn’t wait around. I did learn of my Chef friend Rich was no longer with the team, opting to return to his roots town on the East Coast with the store closure and be closer to his family. Damn East Coast people . . . come out to California, then go back . . . then often times come back to California scratching their heads saying “what was I thinking . . . it’s cold back there”. Also, meeting Rich was my very first introduction into the food truck business. He helped me understand the “gourmet” food truck idea. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to find him out East someday when I visit the Big City area. Gonna miss you Rich. You’re a fine Chef.
The Cuban sandwich that is on this menu appears to be part of a series of sandwiches that is featuring the smoking of meats they have recently added as part of their sandwich menu. I am not Cuban so I make no claims to the authenticity of my personal recipe desire for this particular sandwich. My understanding of this concoction of the Cuban sandwich is traditionally made from”smoked” ham, “roasted” pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and plain yellow mustard on a Cuban roll. New York on Rye has the pork “smoked” and pulled (as Wikipedia claims . . . is ok). My assumption is this is alternatively a good interpretation of the original and I am very much looking forward to trying this sandwich. I have had most everything else on the menu, so I know I won’t be disappointed. But how does it stand up to the competition?
I don’t know . . . ask the competitors. There seems to be no lack of them lately.
The only other thing that has me quirking . . . no, not twerking; is the pursuit of the mighty dollar and the experimentation with menu ideas. I know, as a chef, that you must and will always be experimenting in the kitchen with different flavor profiles, affinities and sometimes culinary mistakes; but I also believe in purity of the roots that begins the inspiration of an idea. I really liked the idea of New York on Rye being an authentic New York style Jewish deli. The owner said to me the first moment I met him, “We’re real Jews making real Jewish food”. That stuck with me to this day. I don’t recall the Cuban or the smoked meat sandwiches as being part of any Jewish deli I remember.