Sometimes it’s a relief to eat a dish that makes no pretense of beauty, that settles for simply being delicious.
At My Cuban Spot, a takeout window with a couple of sidewalk tables in Gowanus, Brooklyn, three huevos fritos (fried eggs) come slapped over rice. The yolks quiver; the whites are riddled with bubbles; the dark brown frills crackle between the teeth. What more could you ask of fried eggs? Pop the yolks all at once, and they ooze, half liquid, half cream. The rice below is good enough to stand alone, springy and rich from steaming in chicken bouillon and olive oil, with an accent mark of salt.
Louie Estrada, the chef, is Miami born and bred, with family roots in pre-revolutionary Cuba. He used to devour huevos fritos as an after-school snack at his grandmother’s house on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. His slip of a storefront, which he opened in August with his best friend, Rafael Almeida, is modeled after the strip’s cafeterías and ventanitas (coffee windows), with a turquoise door that conjures up old Havana — or the Miami Dolphins.
The menu is divided between sandwiches and rice bowls, both of which will have their partisans. Every sandwich has a base of Cuban bread, soft and airy from a daub of lard in the dough, buttered on both sides and then buttered again mid-grilling. Tucked on the side are golden coins of fried green plantains with a brisk snap.
Pork butt, marinated in mojo piqued with bitter orange (“The way my dad did it,” Mr. Estrada said), is roasted for a half-day until it obligingly falls apart. The pork is the glory of the Cubano, a compressed layer cake of a sandwich with a bright stripe of mustard over the bread and pickles sliced thin on a mandolin to diffuse their tang. It builds upward: blushing ham, Swiss cheese gone woozy and, at the top, pork to rule them all. It’s flattened on the grill under a weight so that the flavors seal into one. The pork is still juicy on arrival, salty rivulets running through it.
For pan con lechon, the tangle of pork is topped with sweated onions and matchstick potatoes, poking out of the sides like loose thatch. A New York strip steak seethes satisfyingly in the pan con bistec. The Cuban take on a hamburger, frita, is a soft patty of ground beef and pork bound by tomato paste and stitches of cumin and paprika, slathered with a “secret” sauce of the same ingredients; its appeal might rely on nostalgia.
The roast pork is reprised over rice and inky frijoles simmered in sofrito and red wine vinegar until they are tender but still discrete. The fish of the day, often tilapia, swai or cod, appears burnished by sazón, a Latin spice blend with an orange streak of achiote; it needs nothing more. Best of all is picadillo, ground beef simmered for two hours in crushed tomatoes, with green olives bringing an almost voluptuous brininess. This is the dish that made Mr. Estrada open My Cuban Spot: “I wasn’t able to get a picadillo like my grandma made.” (His version omits the usual raisins. His grandmother used to serve them on the side, because he never liked them.)
On hand to counter the salt and fat are the sodas of Mr. Estrada’s childhood: Materva, a brew of yerba maté, with a lollipop start and an earthy finish; Ironbeer (pronounced Ee-ron-bear), somewhere between Dr Pepper and a melted Creamsicle; and Jupiña, short for jugo de piña (pineapple juice), the sweetest of all.
My Cuban Spot wouldn’t be a ventanita without Café Bustelo, carefully dripped into a tin with sugar — Mr. Estrada uses two tins, mixing one into the other, to keep the measurements exact — and then beaten so the sugar rises in a froth to the top, called espumita. Order a colada, and you get three shots with tiny plastic demitasses, for sharing.
The menu is annotated with notes on the Cubano’s origins (as the lunch of cigar-factory and sugar-mill workers) and memories of pan con lechon, “always done with leftover pork on Christmas Day.” There’s also a cheeky warning in a quote from the sandwich-shop scene in “Scarface,” when Manny rebuffs a customer who demands more ham.
“Que más carne ni más carne, así viene el sandwich men”: More meat, what more meat? That’s how the sandwich comes, man. That’s life.
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