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Deconstructing the Cuban Sandwich

 Deconstructing the Cuban Sandwich

Cuban Sandwich (photo by Creative Commons user foodista)

Monica Eng | Chicago Tribune

Take sweet smoky ham, garlicky roast pork, Swiss cheese, sour pickle chips and tangy yellow mustard. – Assemble them between two soft, chewy slabs of Cuban bread and smoosh the ensemble in a hot sandwich press. – If you’ve done this right, you’ll end up with a fragrant, gooey, crispy treat that ranks among the best sandwiches in the world. – It is, of course, the Cuban sandwich. But you’re unlikely to find it in Cuba, especially under that name. It probably was born in Ybor City, Fla., where the delicacy fed hungry cigar factory workers around the early 1900s. Later, it took off in Miami and Tampa (with salami!) and moved on to Cuban restaurants in other parts of the country.

In recent years, the mobile sandwich has followed its minty cousin the mojito into distinctly non-Cuban territories, including restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory and Chicago’s O’Donovan’s, LaSalle Power Co. and Goose Island Brewery. We even scarfed one in the Lobby restaurant at the Peninsula Hotel, where it was being served as a special.

So, how did this humble factory worker sandwich suddenly become a foodie/trendy darling? Could it be a nod to our thawing relations with the Caribbean nation? Have chefs been chugging too many mojitos?

“I love any sandwich that uses multiple types of pork,” says chef John Manion, who recently took over the kitchen at Goose Island Brewery on Clybourn Avenue, nudging it into gastropubland with the likes of the Bristol and the Publican. His version ($10) features Swiss cheese, pickles, a mustard blend, smoky Nueske ham and slow-roasted Swan Creek pork loin all between a crusty ciabatta roll that’s toasted on a flat-top grill.

“We blend stone-ground mustard with a little Dijon and mayonnaise because the traditional yellow mustard to me is just for hot dogs,” he said, adding “We’ll also be making our own pickles once cucumbers are in season.”

No one really knows how the sandwich came to blend roast pork and ham, but Manion thinks the pig pairing plays up the assets of both cuts. He likes pork so much that he experimented with adding bacon, but it didn’t work. It was too rich and salty.