Bradenton’s Café Havana first opened in 1994 and is the creation of island-born Alfonso Quintana. The restaurant is part of a commercial plaza off 63rd Ave E between US 301 and US 41. There’s a large sign over the glass storefront that reads “Home of the Cuban Sandwich”.
A large dining room area occupies most of the space with wooden tables and chairs surrounded by pictures and memorabilia of Old Havana. There’s a serving counter to the right side and a glass case that displays the delicious Pastelillos de Guayaba (guava pastries), Pastelillos de Guayaba y Queso (guava and cheese pastries), and Quesitos (cheese pastries). A friendly staff greets you as you walk in the front door.
Our first visit was at dinner time, and I wanted to order just about everything from the menu as soon as we sat down at our table. We started with a Sample Platter which includes 4 ham croquettes, 1 tamal, and yuca frita with mojo. I think it’s a good introduction to a few staples of Cuban cooking. My favorite is the ham croquettes. They use diced ham and create a spread that is rolled, covered in bread crumbs, and deep fried. I’m going to show you later another way to eat this delicious treat.
We had two entrees. One was a Bistec de Palomilla cooked with grilled onions and served with yellow rice, black beans, and steamed yuca al mojo, and the other a Pechuga de Pollo Empanizado (or thinly pounded breaded chicken breast) served with white rice, red kidney beans and tostones (fried plantains).
You always have a choice of white or yellow rice, black or red beans, and plantains or yuca. They also serve warm, buttered Cuban bread on the table with your meal. I also took a Tres Leches dessert home for later. They offer daily lunch and dinner specials every day of the week, ranging between $12 and $14 dollars with a Churrasco al Plato on Saturdays for around $20.00.
We brought some friends along for the next visit at lunchtime. It’s a busy crowd with many Spanish-speaking folks from the area. Food comes out quickly even with a full dining room. Mr. Quintana was at hand to supervise, aid the servers, and help in the delivery.
We had everything from Cuban favorites to some Mexican dishes offered on their menu, quesadillas and such. This time we enjoyed a few appetizers, including Relleno de Papa (potato ball filled with ground beef), Mariquitas (fried plantain chips), and Garbanzo Bean Soup.
We then followed with a Cubano Regular (9” sandwich) with extra meat; a Cubano Grande (12” sandwich); a Quesadilla; and a Pollo Asado (roasted chicken). Their Cuban sandwich follows what I consider to be the traditional recipe with roast pork, deli ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. They use Tampa’s La Segunda Bakery’s famous Cuban bread which is incredible.
It was again a lot of food, but nothing makes for a better snack than half a Cuban sandwich. This time I ordered a Flan de Vainilla, a caramel and vanilla custard. It was a delicious sweet ending to an incredible lunch. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a flan aficionado and I can make homemade flan with my eyes closed, so when I say this version was very good, it really means something.
Any Cuban restaurant experience is not complete without some Café con Leche (coffee with milk) and Pan Tostado (Cuban Toast). So, we chose another morning to stop by to try breakfast. My breakfast started with a Quesito and a Cortadito. A cortadito, or cortado, is one of the many ways Cubans drink their coffee. It’s a shorter version of Café con Leche. A cortado is a straight shot of black coffee with a drop of milk froth, therefore the name “cortado” which translates to “cut” with milk.
Then I ordered a Sandwich de Croqueta, four ham croquettes pressed in Cuban bread with swiss cheese. I mentioned earlier that I would show you another way to eat croquettes. This is it! My friend’s breakfast was one of their specials, Huevos & Pan Tostado.
I have to say that this place warms my heart because it brings many good memories of Cuban friends I had in my childhood and many that still remain in my life. Everyone at the restaurant was very friendly during every single visit and I will definitely return. The dinner entrees were my favorite part of the menu.
Café Havana is open Monday-Saturday between 9:00 am and 9:00 pm and is located at 1440 63rd. Ave East, Bradenton, FL 34203.