Pulled pork sammies surprise GLOBer
In my 8 months of commuting ocala, I have yet to dine at close to half of the local eateries Ocala has to offer. I am especially interested in the "mom and pop" joints, as I have found that while the menus are typically more limited, the quality is above average. That was certainly the case with downtown Ocala hole-in-the-wall, Cafe Havana at 923 North Magnolia Avenue #300. .
I crossed a few things off of my list that lunch time: I checked out downtown Ocala which, and this is comparing it to Gainesville, certainly leaves something to be desired, a few dilapidated buildings and a diner or two tucked into the streets. Cafe Havana was another spot on my list, the online reviews between 4.5 and 5 stars raving about how authentic and flavorful the food was certainly piquing my interest. The Cuban cafe emerged as the only restaurant in a small plaza that included a hair salon and a few small shops. A couple small tables lined the front window outside, while about six or so tables filled the inside in addition to the ordering counter and the kitchen at the back.
A few small patrons waited in line before my coworker and I, so we had time to look at the menu, albeit smaller as stated previously. There was the standard Cuban sandwich choice, but it seemed you could order any kind of meat sandwich, from roast or BBQ pork to chicken and fish. There was also a small breakfast menu with a few coffee options, such as the Cortadito, and very simple food combinations: choice of eggs (omelet, scrambled), choice of meat and Cuban toast.
Seeing as how this was a Cuban restaurant, I figured its Cuban sandwich, $6.99, would be an appropriate and indicative choice to determine if the quality lived up to the hype. About 5 or so minutes passed before my sandwich with crinkle cut fries was brought to my table. The sandwich itself spanned about the length of the red basket it arrived in while a reasonable, single serving-size portion of thick and potatoey fries sat piping hot around it. Once splitting the diagonally-cut, pressed Cuban bread in half, I noticed how substantial of a sandwich it really was. The thicker bread did not overpower the other ingredients but instead provided the perfect base for all of the savory ham and Swiss cheese. There also was a great mustard and pickle to protein ratio. I was happily surprised to discover that half of the insides of the sandwich were brimming with pulled pork, an ingredient not found in most standard Cubans. It was extremely tender pork, which is sometimes not the case once it becomes shredded, but it was not dripping in marinade so it did not overshadow the other key items. All in all, a very flavor and texturally cohesive lunch entree.
My coworker ordered the $7.99 lunch special, which was certainly the best deal considering it included a choice of protein, whether chicken, pork or ground beef, and three sides. Going down the cafeteria-style counter line filled with bins of meats and rice, he settled on the shredded pork with sweet plantains, yellow rice with some veggies and black beans. I got a taste of the pork, and it was extremely tender and flavorful as if it had been slow cooking in a marinade for some time.
If I have my mind set on a very simple Cuban dish, I will certainly return to Cafe Havana. It takes the cuisine back to basics in a very high-quality manner that seems to be well-received in the community.
The Pluses and Minuses of the Ocala's Cafe Havana:
Ocala's Cafe Havana PLUS (+) indicators: Friendly service, popular spot but not overcrowded at lunch time, quality ingredients, local eatery, extremely flavorful dishes taken back to its roots
Ocala's Cafe Havana MINUS (-) indicators: Limited seating if the customer amount should increase above about a dozen patrons
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