Monday, December 8, 2014

Where Moors and Christians break bread in Hackensack

Shrimp Ceviche at Casual Habana Cafe in Hackensack.


The classic Cuban dish of soupy black beans served with white rice is called "Moors and Christians," a reference to the long occupation of Spain that ended in 1492.

At the popular Casual Habana Cafe in Hackensack, that's ancient history.

This cozy BYO offers great food at moderate prices, blending Spanish, French and native influences from the Caribbean's biggest island.

Our visits to Casual Habana are rare, but each time we're reminded of just how well-prepared the food is.

The large menu offers roast pork, red snapper and other mainstays, but you'll also find empanadas and tamales; appetizers, salads and sides, including black beans and white rice.

A spinach-and-roasted beet salad can be ordered by itself or a skewered shrimp, above; salmon, steak or chicken. The salad dressing is described as Spanish amontillado sherry vinaigrette.

My Ensalada Casera included field greens, dried papaya and sinfully rich goat cheese dressed in a passion fruit vinaigrette.

We order small

Three of us ordered an appetizer, salads, a soup and a side dish.

My wife asked for grilled shrimp, a $6 supplement, with her spinach-and-roasted beet salad, also $6. 

She also had a tall glass of the restaurant's own lemonade with basil ($3).

My mother-in-law ordered grilled salmon with the same salad for a total of $12.

My appetizer of crunchy Shrimp Ceviche with red onions and baked yuca was $8, and I also ordered Cuban Black Bean Soup ($5) and a Casera Salad ($6).

We shared an order of Tostones, crispy disks of green plantain that are smashed and fried, and served with a dipping sauce ($4).

You could easily make a meal of side dishes, such as steamed fresh vegetables, yuca with garlic and Aroz Moro, also called dirty rice or congris ($4 each).

There is that word "moro" -- Moors -- again. Aroz Moro is a delicious dish of white rice cooked with black beans.

Waiting for our food

We arrived without a reservation, but were seated at a table facing the back of the restaurant and the kitchen. Only a couple of other tables were occupied

Both the dining room and kitchen are well-staffed, but we had to wait for our food, longer than we thought necessary.

By the the time we left around 6:15 Saturday night, the place was almost full.

Tostones, twice-smashed and fried green plantains, are so addictive we asked for another order to go, and my wife prepared more at home the next morning.

Saturday night's specials were listed on a small A-board.

Casual Habana, a BYO, provides a bottle of tap water for the table, a practice many other restaurants should follow.

By 6:15 on Saturday night, nearly every table was filled by customers who had reserved.

Casual Habana Cafe, 125 Main St., Hackensack; 1-201-880-9844. BYO, metered street parking until 6 p.m., except Sunday. 

Open 7 days. Buffet lunch on weekdays. Reservations recommended on weekends.

Web site: A menu of Cuban delights

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