Old Havana Sandwich Shop

Old Havana Sandwich Shop
310 E Main Street
Durham, NC
Tues- Thursday (Martes - Jueves) 9am -8pm
Fri-Saturday (Viernes-Sabado) 9am - 10 pm


Recently, I had the privilege of a very unique experience. Old Havana Sandwich Shop has been on my list of places to visit for awhile, because I have a fascination with Latino and definitely Cuban culture.

Perhaps part of it is the mystique imbued by not having the ability to just fly to the country and visit.
But a large part, for me, is the spirit of the Cuban people. I was impressed very early by the beautiful and persistent work of Cuban musicians. The professionalism, passion, and dedication of these individuals as they went on to pursue their dreams and overcome tremendous obstacles is truly inspiring.

My first experience of the Cuban-style sandwich shop was a little place in the western part of the state. I fell in love with the thick and crusty grilled sandwiches and community coffee-house style atmosphere that supported local artists.

Here too, I see this, but embellished on a larger scale.

When I first visited the Old Havana Sandwich Shop, I tried the Vegetarian plate with black beans, rice, and maduros, or ripe grilled (asada style) plantains. I am not vegetarian as such, cutting back on so much meat is healthier, but I'll take any excuse to eat some black beans. I do not remember precisely when I was introduced to them, but as an adult, I probably make a huge batch at least twice a month.

The black beans at Old Havana Sandwich Shop were like black bean silk. I have not had black beans this good ever. I have gone back three times since. The second time, I believe I got the salad with roasted pork, (cerdo asado or "black meat"), and avocado. Miralis and Dave were on hand, chatted, and explained different things to me on my first visit.  In Cuban culture this reference to cerdo asada, (which is NOT carne asada- that is beef and a different culture), invokes pork grilled over open flame, roasted, or charbroiled with that lovely flavor that comes from this method of cooking. Roasting certainly gives a unique quality to the maduros as well. The duality of them is heightened by the roasting. Folks may mistakenly confuse a plantain with a banana. That is most definitely a mistake. A banana is only sweet. Plantains, however, have different dimensions of flavor. They are sweet and slightly tart, with mature or ripe plantains having a certain richness when cooked this way.

There is something to be said for doing things with excellence. The black beans were perfect, the white rice was perfectly buttered and salted, and the maduros perfectly roasted to bring out their natural flavors. It was a very simple and exquisite meal.

I thought it would be nice to try a white wine with a lighter meal, and tried the Zestos Malvar. This is a grape peculiar to Madrid, and my impression was that it was fruity and bright, with good balance and just a hint of effervescence. I made a note to talk with someone about the wine selecting.

I stopped by again a few days later and got the roasted pork salad, with avocado, greens, tomato and black bean paste and guacamole. Personally, I am not one to always insist on a vinegar-based dressing, so I found this refreshing, and much healthier with added value. The roasted pork of course finds a great home here, where so many love NC BBQ. This was very similar naturally, but no sauce was needed.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the owners, Señor Roberto Copa Matos, on my last visit. It was a busy hour, but I appreciated that he took a minute to speak. On first seeing the name on a card, I wondered what the Copa meant in this instance. I didn't take the liberty of asking, but after our brief conversation turned to the wine, I had to marvel. In Spanish, a "cup" or "copa" can mean different things depending on the circumstances, but Señor Matos is most definitely knowledgeable on wines. He recommended another variety to try that I am going to look up soon.

I found with delight that the coffee is the same I have at home, Cafe Bustelo. This is an espresso coffee. It is strong and has a lot of flavor, but the cafecitos and cafe con leche were delicious. I especially needed a cafe one evening on my way home from school after a long day of dragging that backpack around. ¡Muchisimas Gracias!

The art is absolutely worth mentioning. They feature Cuban artists there, and this is a great venue that many of the artists would not otherwise have. There are bright oils, cultural ink prints, and photographic art to choose from. I got a photographic print by photographer and author Orlando Luis Cardo from La Havana, Cuba.

He works with Yoani Sanchez , a renoun Cuban blogger and author of the blog, "Generation Y". Because she is not allowed to leave Cuba, she was permitted to ask Presidente Obama questions via her blog.

All total, this is a wonderful spot to sit back and relax with some truly good food. I almost forgot to mention the dominoes! I used to play these with my uncle whenever I could beg him for a game. There are dominoes on most tables, and this is a great way to pass time and chat with friends old and new. Old Havana does quite a bit to support our local community as well. They have a great following already, but I know I will be back for those black beans and maduros!

¡Buen provecho!


The Gourmez said…
What an in-depth review! I am glad you enjoyed Old Havana Sandwich Shop. I love it most for the atmosphere, but that coffee is top notch. My first experience with that brand was at Cafe Brasil in Santa Cruz, CA, my college town. I will never forget the first time I realized how delicious coffee could be from it!
You may do the lovely banana a disservice by calling it only sweet. ,) Both plantains and bananas have their excellent qualities, but they have very different utilities in cooking. I love them all!
Deelish! said…
Hey Becca!
You make a good point, and thanks for commenting! I love them both too. But I think the plaintain has much more potential personality-wise for a wider variety of applications because the flavor profile is more neutral and varies much more so depending on ripeness. I use ripe and unripe plaintains, depending. If I ever got a banana that wasn't sweet, I'd be worried. You are right, we use them for different reasons. Not all of my audience are familiar with the differences between them, though. Most folks know the banana quite well. But plaintains don't get that kind of usage. :)

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