Cuban food truck cometh
Last year, the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic ties for the first time in more than 50 years, and last week we learned regular flights between the countries will resume in the fall; Obama plans to visit next month. Cuba is again capturing the American imagination, having once been the stomping ground of Hollywood celebrities and mobsters like Al Capone. Then came revolution, the Cold War, and a prolonged period of harsh austerity measures.
Cuban refugees continue attempts to reach the U.S. via Latin America. And despite reservations about who their money is supporting (not often the people), American travelers are still routing through Mexico to check out "the real Cuba" before thawing relations reshape it. That's what I did last fall, capturing a taste of the transitioning culinary scene too.
When most people think "Cuba" and "food" they first think of the Cuban sandwich, despite its being a Florida construct around Tampa and Miami. Ropa vieja ("old clothes"), a true Cuban, adobo-spiced, beer-braised flank-steak dish, isn't widely known. But soon, we'll be able to taste authentic versions of each, plus other Cuban staples, thanks to Abuela's Cuban Bistro (abuelascubanbistro.com), a new food truck.
Owner and Air Force veteran Steven Calleiro shares the story of his grandparents fleeing Cuba via Spain, ultimately landing in Atlanta, Georgia, after the Bay of Pigs incident. His grandfather's button factory and family farm had been seized by Castro's regime. Later, it was Calleiro's grandmother who always had Cuban delicacies ready when he was visiting — "Growing up, you think everyone's grandparents are like yours," he says, "but you find out that not a lot of people get to eat real Cuban food."
His wife's position at Schriever Air Force Base relocated the couple to Colorado Springs several years ago, where he's since done technical work. Now he's finalizing his menu, for which he's been meticulously sourcing ingredients. One example is a recent meeting with Great Harvest Bread Co. to get as close to the breads made for Cuban sandwiches by the Florida bakery La Segunda. He'd ship the real thing, but it's not shelf stable: "The only thing Cuban bread is good for after a day is beating mice," he says, presumably quoting his grandparents.
He is however making his grandmother's mojo recipe to marinade pork shoulders, subbing a lemon-lime addition to regular OJ in place of the traditional sour orange juice that typifies the true thing — he says it's prohibitively pricey by the bottle. He says he'll likely offer both "old-school" (classic yellow) and "new-school" (Dijon) mustard options, and he'll also plate a Cuban burger — a patty topped with ham, pork, Swiss, mustard and pickles. Twice-fried plantains, tostones, will see a garlic-cilantro aioli dip.
Calleiro plans to park at breweries and elsewhere but hasn't announced locations yet. He says if the business goes well, he'd like to fly his father to Cuba to visit family; he's never been and his dad hasn't returned since fleeing in 1963, when he was 10.