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Vive Cuba

Until it's legal to visit, there's Rumba Café

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HABANA SANDWICH The bread for Rumba's Cuban sandwich is shipped from Miami. - STETT HOLBROOK
  • Stett Holbrook
  • HABANA SANDWICH The bread for Rumba's Cuban sandwich is shipped from Miami.

To the extent most people outside of Florida are familiar with Cuban cuisine, it's the Cuban sandwich.

A Cuban sandwich is made with pork and/or ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, pickles and Cuban bread. The bread is a key ingredient. Cuban bread is a flat, French-like loaf that's cut square and pressed on a griddle to make it hot and crispy and delicious.

The genesis of the sandwich is murky, but the popular story is that it began as lunch fare among cigar factory and sugar mill workers in 19th- and early 20th-century Cuba. Before the Cuban revolution and the embargo and travel restrictions that followed, Cubans traveled to Florida frequently, and they brought their sandwich with them. The Cuban sandwich flourished in Tampa's Ybor City.

Now that President Obama has moved to normalize relations with Cuba, the day may soon come when Americans can travel to Cuba with ease. Will the Americanized Cuban sandwich repatriate back to Cuba? For now, the closest you can get to Cuba in the North Bay is Windsor's five-week-old Rumba Cuban Café.

The restaurant is owned by the Tormo family. They moved from Florida seven years ago, and brought their love of Cuban food with them. Cuban-born Reina Torma does the cooking. She was born in Cuba as was Elizabeth Tormo, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Isaac.

The Cuban sandwich ($11.95) is the best seller, and for good reason. I told myself there was no way I could finish the hulking pressed sandwich, but a few minutes later, it was gone. The bread is shipped in from Miami and finished in the oven at Rumba. It's wonderfully crisp and crumbly. The best part is the tender pulled-pork shoulder pressed between the slices of bread. It's great with a side of mojo sauce (lemon juice and garlic) for dipping, garlic breath be damned.

There are other sandwiches on the menu, like the Little Havana (roast pork, Swiss cheese and garlicky aioli, $10.95) and the Frita/Cuban burger (seasoned ground beef and chorizo served on a sweet roll, $5.50). But the Cuban sandwich is really what you want.

There's also a list of daily specials that reads like the greatest hits of Cuban cuisine—lechon asado (roast pork, $15), picadillo (spiced ground beef with olives, $11), chicken fricassee ($11) and shrimp creole (e$16.95). I tried the Monday special, picadillo. It's a simple but satisfying dish. Add in soupy black beans, white rice and fried plantains, and you've got a classic Cuban meal. It's Caribbean soul food.

Inside, Rumba is light and bright. There are half a dozen or so tables, and a bar with chairs made out of wine barrels. An old, black rotary phone on the wall emits a muffled ringtone that sounds as old as Fidel. Rumba and son cubano tunes play from the speakers, and Caribbean-inspired art hangs on the wall alongside a large framed map of Cuba. No images of Che here.

Cafe con leche ($.95) is another well-known Cuban specialty, and it's great at Rumba. Sweet and creamy, it's made with Café Bustelo espresso ground coffee from Miami. Beer isn't yet available.

I'll get to Cuba someday, but I'll be visiting Rumba Café a lot sooner—and more frequently.

Rumba Cuban Cafe, 8759 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor. 707.687.5632.

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