What does it take to rouse this blog from its slumbers? What it takes, evidently, is a jolt of sugar and caffeine, followed by a sharp slash of yellow mustard. Sour orange juice, garlic, salt and pork help, too.
Which is to say . . . I had lunch at this counter in Gowanus, and just had to write about it. My initial plan was to include it in my annual NYC marathon course round-up (yes, installment #3 will be arriving soon), but (a) My Cuban Spot is closed on Sundays and (b) it really deserves its own post. (CORRECTION: the restaurant is now *open* on Sundays starting at noon. It’s closed Mondays.)
I watched the place take shape over the spring and summer, as I passed by on morning runs. First there was the paper that covered the former takeaway window of Cotta Bene at Third Avenue and Carroll Street. Then there was the sign: “My Cuban Spot.” After a month’s hiatus from running (during which my foggy, endorphin-deprived brain remembered the promise of a neighborhood Cuban spot but forgot which street it was on), I refound the location, which had added a new sign – “Cuba Mi Vida” – and generally spiffed itself up. It looked tantalizingly close to opening. And then, finally, it did, and I dawdled in trying it out. It wasn’t open when I went by (it opens at 11, so it’s not, lamentably, a morning coffee option), or I didn’t “feel” like a Cuban sandwich, or I came up with some other blitheringly stupid reason not to stop.
There is no inside seating (Louie, the proprietor, says a vestibule to shelter customers from those chilly winter winds off the canal is on its way). Orders are taken through the kitchen window and handed over packaged to go . . . though on a fine day, you’re more than welcome to sit on a stool at the narrow counters that flank the window and eat your food on the spot, which is what I did. First was a cortadito, strong and sweet. Then came my sandwich, the Cubano, spilling blackened, crusty shreds of roast pork. It looked so hearbreakingly delicious, I sat there for a long 30 seconds, a little stunned. And then I started to eat.
The thing about Cuban sandwiches is, even mediocre ones are more than the sum of their parts. Mustard that doesn’t know enough to be brown and French. Defiantly non-artisanal pickles. Indifferent ham and Swiss cheese. Leftover pork roast. A roll that’s more squishable than crusty. Put them together, and squish that roll but good on the plancha, and those parts transform into something approaching magnificence.
If that’s the case for any old Cuban sandwich, then what happens when you elevate one of those parts? The pork, for example. What if you were to marinate it in sour orange juice and whatever else your family used when for their lechón when you were a kid, and then cook it long and slow until the fat has all melted away – leaving blackened nubbins, salty and crisp, to remind you it was there – and the meat itself has collapsed into shreds? And why not throw some plantain chips on the plate as well, and a plastic cup of mojo sauce?
What you get is 30 seconds of stunned silence, then bliss – and this blog post.
The menu also includes picadillo, Cuban-style huevos fritos and pan con lechón (as to the last, I’m envisioning a sandwich without the calming intervention of ham and cheese, just a pile of that roast pork, and wondering if eating such a thing is advisable). I want to try them all, in time . . . though the temptation to return again and again to that classic Cuban sandwich is awfully damn strong.
My Cuban Spot
488 Carroll St (at Third Avenue), Gowanus, Brooklyn. Open Mon-Sat, 11 am to 9 pm (more or less)