Saved by a Cuban Coffee and Sandwich
"CafÃ© con leche, sin azucar. Un cubano, sin mayonesa. Si, caldo."
That's Spanish for a kick-in-the-pants coffee with steamed evaporated milk, hold the sugar, and a Cuban sandwich, without mayonnaise, heated under a sandwich press (called a plancha). It's also become my standing order at La Carreta, a local Cuban restaurant chain that has a corner location in Concourse D of Miami International Airport.
Upon arriving in Miami, I grab my bag at baggage claim, check in at the car rental counter and return upstairs to the La Carreta for my usual. In weak Spanish, I place my order with one of the guayabera-outfitted women behind the counter and take in the flurry of activity. The customers are a mix of travelers and airport employees, speaking both Spanish and English, and they're all there, returning over and again for the strong coffee and the tasty array of Cuban treats, from guava and cheese pastellitos to papas rellenos.
I take my food into the always-bustling dining room, where I notice a line of people ordering from the cafeteria menu. I suppose I could break out of my routine and try the sopa de frijoles negros (black bean soup) or the pollo asado (roast chicken), but right now, in the midst of a family crisis, I'm comforted by the sameness of my ritual. Perched on a high bar-like chair, I remove the paper wrapping that protects my sandwich and dive in.
A Cuban sandwich is a carnivorous experience. Slices of ham, roast pork (lechon asado) mingle with swiss (or is it provolone?) and thick slices of pickle, in between two slices of Cuban bread. The closest thing to Cuban bread is French bread (but not a baguette), but it's got a thinner crust and a softer tooth.
For a few minutes, it's all about me, the Cubano and the cafÃ© con leche. No one can bother me, no one can get in the way, even when my thoughts turn to another round of hospital visits. It's all I need to gear up for the emotional journey ahead.
When it's time to pack up and return home, I repeat my ritual, just before entering the security line (La Carreta is conveniently located outside Concourse D gates.). After an intense few days, the coffee-sandwich combo allows time for reflection and a deep breath of relief that my brother is still alive.
From "Three Guys from Miami" (Emphasis and comments are theirs)
Cuban bread (Substitute French bread if you must, but NOT a baguette!)
1/4 pound ham sliced (Use a good quality ham.)
Â¼ pound lechÃ³n asado (roasted Cuban pork) sliced
1/8 pound Swiss cheese, sliced (Use a mild Swiss -- we like Baby Swiss -- it has only a few holes.)
Sliced dill pickles (dill "Sandwich Stackers" work great)
Yellow mustard (optional)
Place the sandwich on the hot griddle (fry pan) sprayed with a little "Pam" or lightly greased. Place a heavy iron skillet or bacon press on top of the sandwich to flatten. (You really want to smash the sandwich, compressing the bread to about 1/3 its original size!) Grill the sandwiches for two to three minutes on each side, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden. Make sure your griddle or fry pan is not TOO HOT! Otherwise, the crust will burn before the cheese melts. Slice the sandwich in half diagonally and serve.
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