The Cubano (or Cuban sandwich) has a rich history, one that dates back to the late 1800s when large numbers of Cuban immigrants came to Florida to flee Spanish rule. Like the lobster roll, the list of key ingredients for a Cubano is pretty short—roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles, mustard, and bread. That doesn’t prevent sandwich enthusiasts from having passionate debates about how to make the best and/or most authentic one, however.
Purists will tell you that the Cuban bread required for a truly authentic version of this sandwich can’t be found outside of Florida. Acknowledging this, we still decided to have a Food Fight over it with Brian Stockholm of Papi Queso food truck fame.
Brian and his team brought three big advantages with him to the fight. Papi Queso’s grilled cheese sandwiches are known for their golden, crispy outsides, and Cubanos are grilled on a plancha. The texture of the grilled bread can make or break this sandwich. Plus, one of Papi Queso’s most popular sandwiches, the Pig Mac, comes stuffed with pulled pork that they make in-house, making the pork portion of the sandwich familiar territory for him. Papi Queso also offers house-made pickles, a relatively small but important part of a good Cuban sandwich.
Despite these advantages, the Plaid Penguin team brought its best game to this Food Fight, the first one we ever held. Chefs Alyssa Gorelick and Noam Bilitzer pitched in to help us with our grill-pressed beauties, which came with just a little crumbled bacon melted into the cheese.
Both teams served their sandwiches in old cigar boxes, setting the tone on the presentation side of things from then on. Ours came with chips seasoned with fresh cilantro and garlic; Brian’s came with yucca fries and black beans and rice. Our guests—also judges—chose Papi Queso’s version of this Florida favorite, but not by much! The two teams closed the friendly competition trying each other’s sandwiches and enjoying a shot of barrel-aged rum.