Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Cuban sandwich for everyone

The classic Cubano at the 32-year-old La Pola in West New York. 

El Nuevo Cubano was made with smoked wild salmon I supplied.

One of the things I've missed since I stopped eating meat is the warm, crusty classic from the Caribbean's biggest island -- the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano.

There's no need to go to Miami. You'll find one of the best at La Pola Restaurant in West New York.

"The King of the Cuban Sandwich" is no idle boast.

La Pola's plate-glass windows are beautifully decorated.
Since he opened in 1980, Belarmino Rico has sold more than 2 million Cuban sandwiches at La Pola, his corner storefront -- and that is a conservative estimate.
All of the sandwiches go into a heated press called la plancha.

We jumped in the car this past Thursday to visit the owner of La Pola, Belarmino Rico, who everyone calls "Rico," which happens to be the Spanish word for "delicious."

Rico was born in a village called La Pola in Spain, but spent formative years in Havana, where he learned how to make the sandwiches at his uncle's bodega.

My teenage son also missed the classic sandwich, and I had found a possible solution to ending my craving: substituting smoked wild Alaskan salmon for two of the main ingredients, roast pork and Virginia ham.

At La Pola, ham and pork are roasted starting at 4 a..m., then hand sliced for sandwiches.

In addition to Cubanos, Rico offers daily Cuban creole specials and such Spanish dishes as tortilla Espanola, a potato omelet, and a meat-filled empanada.

But we went for the sandwiches, and my son grabbed a half of the $6 classic hot from the clam-shell grill, and started eating before I could take a photo.

A glass of fresh sugar-cane juice is $4-- 50 cents more without ice.

Rico was a whirlwind -- heating sandwiches in the press, moistening them with his own dressing, then turning around to his cutting board to slice and wrap up sandwiches to go. 

Here is the link to a short video of him in action:
"Para llevar, Alfredo?" 

Rico was patient with me when I asked him to make my sandwich with slices of the smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon I buy at Costco Wholesale.

He "held" the pork and ham, but made the sandwich as he normally would with sliced Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles and his own mojito -- Spanish olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and a little salt.

The Cubano with salmon was everything this great sandwich could be: 

First, your teeth breaks through the toasted crust of Cuban water bread to the melted cheese below, then you taste the salty salmon, mustard, pickles and mojito -- a delicious combination you won't find in any other sandwich.

Next time, I'll order a cafe con leche to wash it down.

Daily specials are listed on the tiled wall.

Cuban sandwiches ready for the heated press.

Cicharrones or pork rinds also are available.

La Pola Restaurant, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York; 201-867-6028; open 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Closed Sundays. No credit cards.

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