REVIEW: Old Havana Sandwich Shop – Durham
One of the things that my husband and I miss the most about living in Tampa is all the great Cuban food we used to get there. Luckily, Cuban cuisine is on the rise and more places are opening up throughout the country, including some places in the Triangle. Most of the places I’ve tried in the past have been a disappointment, so I’m really hoping that Old Havana, a new Cuban sandwich shop that has opened in downtown Durham will live up to my high standards. Today our boss is treating us to lunch, so we are finally going to try out this place.
Looking at the menu, I am impressed. There are several kinds of Cuban sandwiches that are offered, including one called “The Tampa,” because it is made like the sandwiches in the Tampa Bay area. The sandwich is filled with layers of slow roasted pork, ham, salami and cheese and is topped with pickles, mustard and something they call a mojo sauce.
We’ll see. The biggest challenge is the bread. I am curious to see if this place uses real Cuban bread or just a cheap imitation. Do they use palm leaves to bake the bread? As I’m perusing the menu, I see that the sandwiches are served on rolls from Guglhupf bakery. Well, that just means we are not getting the real thing. Sorry folks, but the bread makes the sandwich. To their credit though, I don’t know where they’d get the Palm fronds that are cooked in the middle of each loaf of Cuban bread here in North Carolina!
The good news though is that the pork comes from local, pasture-raised pigs that do not have added hormones or antibiotics. These are probably much healthier sandwiches than the ones we get in Ybor City.
The shop also offers a variety of some of my favorite side dishes including black beans and rice, and maduros, which are ripe plantains. This restaurant roasts them in the oven, but more typically they are fried in a pan with some butter, which caramelizes the plantains. The key to this dish is the riper the plantain, the better the results!
Well, we are back from out excursion and we brought the food back to work and I must say that although what I had cannot be considered a true Cuban sandwich because it lacked the Cuban bread, this was a close second! The crust was nice and crunchy, though not as crisp as genuine Cuban bread, and the inside was warm and chewy. The pork was fresh and tender and had lots of flavor. It blended perfectly with the layer of ham, and salami. The cheese melted into the meats giving it a nice smooth and salty flavor and the pickles and mustard give the sandwich a nice little kick.
Two of the ladies in our office tried the El Carney sandwich, which had chopped pork instead of sliced pork, and it also had avocados, cheese, mustard and the mojo sauce. They both reported that they loved the flavor of this sandwich. Our boss had the Havana, which is the same as the Tampa sandwich minus the salami, which is actually more authentic than the Tampa sandwich. He also had the black beans which he said had lots of great flavor to them.
We also tried the croquetas, which, as the menu describes, is like a hush puppy with pork in it. They were packed with flavor. There was an ample portion of maduros and they also did not disappoint. They were sweet and warm. To finish the meal, I ordered the guava pastelitos, which are little guava pastries. This is one of my absolute favorite desserts, and, in fact, I make them at home using puff pastry and guava paste. Old Havanas version are smaller than the ones I make, but the right size after eating a large sandwich and a side dish.
Old Havana is located at 310 East Main Street, so it is on the other side of Roxboro Street. This area is just beginning to be redeveloped. The restaurant has more seating than I expected, so next time we will probably eat at the restaurant itself. Old Havana is open Tuesday -Friday from 7:30am – 5:30pm and Saturday from 9am – 4pm.