Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Havana Grill: Delivery from a bad roll on Urbanspoon

I wanted a cigarette after seeing Chef...
but I bought a Panini maker..
So I saw Jon Favreau's Chef two months ago. Let’s be honest, the film was as much a food porn film (I mean honestly…the scene where Favreau’s Carl Casper made the grilled cheese sandwich only needed a slow bow-chick-a groove in the background as he pushed the bread around the grill) as it was a travel narrative. …And the fact that I bought a Panini press after seeing it (no, seriously...right from the theater to Target) is irrelevant...for the most part.

Don’t judge me…

Casper mounts his comeback by starting a food truck, featuring Cuban sandwiches, so I fell victim to some subliminal programming of my own as I fired up the Urbanspoon app and went looking for a lunch place yesterday. Originally, after my disappointing visit to Los Tres Maguyres, I wanted to hit another Mexican place. I had this whole idea of a review series—the Mexican standoff. Imagine, a series of reviews of Mexican places in town. So I went hunting in Urbanspoon—Cary, Mexican, one dollar sign—and found La Casa de Las Encilhadas.

Sorry, folks, restaurant's closed. The
app should have told ya...
Remember that scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation when the Griswolds arrive at Wally World…only to find it closed? Sadly, no one told Urbanspoon that La Casa de Las Encilhadas had closed…and not as in “not open today” closed, but empty-building, sale-sign-in-the-parking-lot, vinyl-couches-next-to-the-dumpster closed. There wasn't even a moose out front I could punch. I guess, though, I stood in for the bespectacled fat guy, I suppose.

Fat man + hunger + food denial = A rather…urgent spin on Urbanspoon. Enter Havana Grill…and that little voice in my head that said “hey…we never did have a Cuban sandwich after we saw Chef.” I was there five minutes later.

Havana Grill is nestled just outside downtown Cary—part indoor, part outdoor, with a food truck parked in the back. From the parking lot, I could hear the blasting of brass instruments and Spanish vocals. Walking inside, I saw a Hispanic couple at one of the tables. Minority test: passed. The restaurant seems divided into three main areas: the service/ordering area, a small indoor dining area, and a larger outdoor dining area. The indoor dining area was a bit warm, especially for summer, but I wrote it off as part of the Cuban theming—a humid, subtropical environment to accompany the food.

The restaurant is designed for fast service—with a hot line for sides and a kitchen in the back. The menu was considerably expansive, but I ran on instinct: Cuban sandwich with fries and a soft drink. About five minutes later, I had food. The fries were decent, but it’s hard to mess fries up. The real star was the sandwich.

I actually had to wait a few minutes for the sandwich to cool down before I could handle it. I had no problem with this. Hot food (and the wait to cool) is always better than cold food from a kitchen. The cheese had melted off the bun and onto the wax paper. At the risk of going into ignorant American mode, let’s be honest: the Cuban is a pressed ham and cheese sandwich with a little more pork, crusty bread and pickles.

This little piggy's going in mah belleh...
…but ham and cheese sandwiches are awesome…and I love pickles.

Havana Grill didn’t disappoint. The pickle and mustard provided just the right bite to play off the ham and swiss, and the bread was toasted and firm, but not overdone. The sandwich was served with a garnish of fried onions on top…which I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. The cheese had melted and solidified around the bread, mixing with the butter from the toasting process. For my first Cuban, it met every expectation set by its predecessor on the big screen.

With the sandwich gone, I decided to indulge the urge for tres leches cake that Los Tres Meguyres had denied me the day before. Now again, Havana Grill looks to be a fast-service place, so the cake had been pre-sliced and served in a Styrofoam bowl with cellophane covering it. While this might give a moment to pause…anything that lets the cake marinate in sweetened milk more is just fine for me.  The cake was well-soaked, but it wasn’t mushy or overly soggy. Likewise, I found it really sweet (I made the comment via social media that my ‘beetus got the ‘beetus from it), but it might be too sweet for some.

Havana Grill stepped in to save me from the disappointment or a bad Urbanspoon roll. The food was exceptional (and I’ll be back some time, to try other things), the price was decent ($5 for my Cuban), and the tres leches cake could put an elephant into a sugar coma.

1 comment:

  1. I've only been to Havana Grill once several years ago, but I seem to recall liking it. I need to remember to go back sometime.