I’ve driven hundreds of miles with my brothers, father and best friend in search of Cuban Sandwiches that are more than just passable. They have to be made with heart and have a spark that belies the simplicity of the ingredients. It’s an easy thing to phone in and miss. But when done right, the bliss is effervescent. One sign of a place with potential is the quality of their café con leche. It was by this mark that I first judged Cafeteria La Mejor on Suydam and Wilson. My first time was splendid.
To go with the café con leche ($3.75) I generally order a tostada ($3.00) – Cuban bread pressed with melted butter and perfect for dipping in the coffee. I started going here shortly after the place opened in September of 2012 – and wondered if my initial joy was a symptom of having been away from Florida for so long.
Upon repeat visits, I could see that the coffee was consistently delicious. I would quietly return and talk with the owner Jeremy Sapienza and his brother Mike, both of whom are from South Florida. It’s an easy ordeal to get loaded on caffeine here – the coffees also benefit from the authority of authenticity. No small task considering that the purveyors are not of Cuban origin – and have recreated their Florida from memory.
However, the most important question had to be answered. That is: How is the Cuban Sandwich ($8.00)?
First of all, I would take any of my companions from the Cuban Sandwich search here with confidence. The pork is tender, the bread authentic and local, the mustard is coarse, the pickles are from the Eastern European inspired kitchen at Mazelle, and the whole thing is pressed thin before being cut diagonally. On a side note, the Cuban Bread comes from Stella Di Sicilia Bakery in East Williamsburg, it’s tough to beat for freshness.
This is definitely a Brooklyn version of the Cubano – and I say that without snark, merely as a reflection of the places I’ve been to in the Florida Keys, Miami, Tampa, and even Panama City brimming with authenticity and care. The visits to Cafeteria La Mejor and subsequent writing of this review coincided with my reading of You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, a book that intimates and grandstands on the fact that what is past is dead. The Cuban sandwiches of my youth are gone. This is the first memorable Cuban Sandwich I’ve eaten since moving to New York.
One thing that adds to the enjoyment of coming here is the effortless Florida casual attitude exuded by the décor and proprietors. There’s a moment in the day when the sun hits the street right and the bright colors almost take you out of Bushwick. Even if I’m standing at the outside counter in winter under the big, pink, open window, I can picture the beach just around the corner.