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The Funny Thing About A Fake Cuban

June 2, 2016

Some people are all riled up over the gorilla this week. That’s not me. I have a hard time understanding people’s affection for the animals they keep as pets, so deep feelings for an animal I’ve never met aren’t going to happen.

I eat meat. I wear leather. I use soap. I love cheese. I read glossy magazines.

Which isn’t to say I’m entirely heartless. I don’t want to see animals tormented. I do want to see their sacrifices be respected. And I think we should be treating those creatures who pay the ultimate sacrifice for our nutrition and pleasure much better than we currently are.

From what I gather, I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction with meat and dairy production in the United States. Whether it’s the quality of the feed, the conditions in which the animals live, or the methods in which they are killed, there’s a lot of room for improvement in the system. And it’s not just the animals. The speed of the line and specialization of tasks takes its toll on the human workers too. Plus the hard working farmers always seem to get screwed.

But let’s bring this back to food, because the controversy I want to tackle is about the vegan Cuban.

We’ve got a new deli in Albany. It’s a vegan place called Berben and Wolff’s. They are trying to make vegan food that is appealing to everyone.

First, I am really excited about this place, and can’t wait to get in there. One of the things they make is a vegan version of a cuban sandwich. And it costs over $10. Over on AOA, Daniel Naylor commented on the ridiculousness of paying over $10 for a fake Cuban sandwich.

And I totally agree, but probably for a different reason than most. After all, I’m a former Floridian.

Cuban sandwiches, much like po’ boys and banh mi, exist solely because they were cheap eats. Sure, they became popular because they are delicious as well. But as others tried to cash in on the popularity of the Cuban sandwich, it lost an important connection to its roots.

Cheap bread, made with lard. One thin slice of roast pork. One thin slice of ham. One thin slice of cheese. A few thin slices of pickles. A little mustard. All put in a grill press to make it hot enough for the cheese to melt and bind it all together.

The balance of the sandwich gets thrown off when places try to be “generous”.

Generosity is the great failing of the Cubano. Because restaurants want to load this sandwich up with filling. When you do that, not only does it get more expensive, but it also departs from its original and glorious proportions.

Forget whether or not the sandwich at Berben & Wolff’s is made with real meat or not. Even a quick glance of a casual photograph reveals that this version is a ridiculous parody of the real deal just based on the amount of filling.

And of course there is the issue with the bread. Because much like you can’t have a croissant sandwich on rye bread, you can’t have a Cuban sandwich on anything other than Cuban bread.

So…

Is this sandwich fake? You bet.
Is this sandwich pricey? Totally.
Is it delicious and worth it? Probably.

It’s hard to say, since I have yet to go in and try B&W’s particular riff off this classic sandwich. But people I know and trust have already been there and they’ve been saying great things. I had wanted to go earlier this week, but I got sucked into the Savoy Taproom’s ribbon cutting ceremony. Which was interesting and all, but in my heart of hearts I would have preferred to skip it in lieu of a potentially delicious, if ridiculous and fake, vegan Cuban.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2016 9:30 am

    So, here is the question… my fiancé is also a Floridian and whom has stated numerous times there is no place to find a Cuban sandwich (a real one) in the Capital District. Every visit to his hometown in North FL has to include a true Cuban sandwich at his (and now my) favorite spot. Any thoughts on where to find one in the area?

    • June 2, 2016 11:26 am

      Carmen’s Cafe in Troy makes the finest Cuban sandwich I’ve had outside southern Florida.

      • June 2, 2016 12:15 pm

        Carmen’s is very good – great breakfast!

    • June 2, 2016 11:28 am

      Casa Dominica has a fine one too.

    • June 2, 2016 12:06 pm

      Carmen’s may make the best in the area. They found a Cuban bakery in New Jersey, and the bread is legit. However, I’d keep your expectations in check. To be fair, I’m very hard on Cuban sandwiches, and am generally dissatisfied with much of what I find around Miami.

      #MakeTheCubanGreatAgain

      • June 2, 2016 12:14 pm

        He has a very high standard as well and would agree; the go-to place in Tallahassee is better than what he has found anywhere else (even in Miami). Been to Carmen’s many times. I have given up the search – just need to have more trips to FL. Thanks!

      • June 4, 2016 2:55 pm

        I get where Daniel is coming from. But I love the Cuban at Carmen’s. I have no idea how authentic it is, I just know the thing is delicious. And their yucca fries are fantastic too.

  2. June 2, 2016 10:51 am

    It’s not a fake vegan Cuban, it’s a genuine vegan Cuban or a vegan fake Cuban. But I think vegan Cuban pretty much explains all that needs to be explained.

    When you think about it, don’t you?

    People want to have a controversy over vegan dishes that have names indicating that they’re versions of meat dishes. This is well worth investigating as a food issue. Why do vegan chefs need to do “fakes” ? Why would a vegan chef even try to do something like a Cubano without even going as far as using Cuban bread? It’s goofy like making a chicken bahn mi wrap.

    I think tofu pups and tofurkey started the whole mess decades ago. And don’t even bring up the atrocities made with seitan.

    Although it seems to be an art vegan chefs want to continue, I think it’s time to invent wholly vegan dishes that leave off trying to look like, taste “like”, or have names like meat dishes.

    To all vegan chefs: Be brave! Make the break!

    • enough already! permalink
      June 6, 2016 10:43 pm

      Here here LorreS…I am in total agreement!! I think this may have had a go round on table hopping ot too long ago. I once had a delicious vegan dish called ‘cheesecake’ that was made of ground cashews – I wondered why they couldn’t have called it ‘creamy cashew cake’.

  3. Daniel Naylor permalink
    June 2, 2016 11:19 am

    As a disclaimer, I know for sure I am ignorant on these vegan issues.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why Vegans will throw blood on me when they see me eat a Fillet-O-Fish but painstakingly work in underground lairs to recreate vegan food to taste like animals.

    You hit the nail on the head Daniel regarding my comment on AOA. Much like its absurd to pay premium prices at Ama Cocina which markets its self as “street food”, its comical to throw down 13$ what I think is the supreme leader of all cheap eats. It’s the perfect cheap meal and it angered me! Sorry not sorry vegans!

  4. nene permalink
    September 27, 2016 6:01 pm

    I went there for lunch today (first time) and was totally blown away by the fake Cuban sandwich. The fillings were perfectly balanced. It was better than the one I had at Carmen’s years ago. I’m not a vegan or a vegetarian, and the “meat” tasted like meat and the “cheese” tasted like cheese. It was really incredible. I can’t stop thinking about it. I love those rare moments in dining out.

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