Tampa’s traditional comfort food rarely gets enough respect from its proprietors, so it is refreshing to see the Floridian stake its reputation on its Cuban sandwiches. For the uninitiated, Cuban sandwiches as we know them originated in Tampa, not Miami or Cuba. Tampa’s version contains salami as well as ham, Cuban roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.
Let’s face it: the Cuban sandwich of old, once made by artisans who spent hours roasting pork and baking hams, has been cheapened by mass production. It is good to see a business bucking that trend and devoting itself to lovingly prepared Cuban sandwiches.In 1992, the Floridian began in Treasure Island, where it was probably rather easy to make the best Cuban sandwich. In Tampa, the marketplace is considerably more glutted and discerning. It is precisely because I respect the roots and history of the Cuban sandwich that I am so obsessed with finding the best and shunning the worst. The Floridian could have easily embarrassed itself with substandard sandwiches in its new Tampa location. Thankfully, that was not the case.
The venue: Clean and casual. Service is friendly and prompt. Just be willing to wait a couple minutes for the sandwich press to work its magic.
The grub: The Floridian claims the finest Cuban sandwich and French fries on the planet and boasts of house made soups and meats. The tasty Floridian bean soup ($3.39 bowl/$4.99 plate) is not traditional Spanish bean soup made with garbanzos, but a variation of classic Caldo Gallego, a rich stew of white beans, ham, and greens. The Floridian’s version is full flavored and much lighter than the traditional version, which is liberally spiked with pork fat.
The operation puts much effort and hype into its French fries ($1.99, $2.99 for large), and they were plenty good, double fried to a deep brown and full of honest potato flavor. I prefer my fries crispy, and these fell short in that regard, but the fries did not survive long. The spicy dipping sauce (50 cents) recommended at the counter was strangely silky in texture and mostly tasteless, certainly not spicy. Skip it. Besides, the excellent fries hardly needed sauce or ketchup at all.
But it all comes down to the sandwiches for the Floridian ($4.99 for an ample 7-inch, $6.99 for a huge 10-incher). The short review: they are quite good. I recommend them with no reservations.
The long review is a bit more complex. Forgive me, casual diners, as my fixation on the Cuban sandwich is unusual and anything but casual. For years, I have yearned for a restaurant to create a Cuban for the ages, and I’ve found few worthy contenders. I like the Floridian’s. The following criticism is done out of love for the sandwich and respect for the Floridian’s efforts.
The Floridian clearly understands the importance of a good sandwich press, and their sandwiches are wonderfully crispy, compressing and toasting the quality Cuban bread, melting the cheese, and rendering the juices of the meats within. Lettuce, onion, and tomato are not good toppings for a pressed sandwich, as they release too much water in the heat of the press. The Floridian rightly does not add them unless requested.
In a city of great Cuban bread and countless sandwich presses, the quality of the meats in a Cuban sandwich is the most vital component of any contender.
I prefer ham with a hint of sweetness, preferably from being glazed after baking. Most purveyors of Cuban sandwiches prefer to forget the glazed hams of old Tampa. Sugar-glazed ham elevates the average sandwich to sublime heights. The Floridian’s ham is easily sufficient, but I wonder what glazed ham would taste like in its sandwich. (A note to the Floridian: if you ever decide to glaze, please let us know!)
The pork is pleasant enough, but does not stand out on the Cuban or served alone on a “spiced pork” sandwich. Conveying the complex flavors of mojo, a traditional Cuban marinade of garlic, vinegar, and sour orange, is no easy feat. The Floridian’s pork has a flavor more like the supermarket deli pork. The flavor is good enough, but certainly does not rise above the standard of the area’s other favorite Cuban sandwiches.
The real surprise of my visit was the turkey sandwich ordered by a friend. The Floridian roasts its own turkey, and the quality is obvious form the first bite. Instead of the salty processed flavors of cold cuts, the turkey tastes like turkey. The sandwich was ordered plain by a friend, something I never would have done, but it tasted great. It may be the best turkey sandwich in Tampa.
The bottom line: Does the Floridian have the best Cuban sandwich and fries on the planet? Of course not. Do they have the best in Tampa? No. But they are damn close. And for those prices, I’ll give them another shot at the title any day.
Designed to meet the needs of area businesses and their employees, the West Kennedy Boulevard location offers full catering for meetings and events in addition to fast delivery of individual menu items including sandwiches; black beans and rice; homemade soups and chili; and a complete selection of coffees and fresh squeezed juice.
The Floridian is home to the “Finest Cuban Sandwich on the Planet,” a Tampa classic proclaimed “Best Cuban Sandwich In Tampa Bay” by the St. Petersburg Times and named “Taste of Tampa Bay’s Favorite Cuban Sandwich” by FOX 13.
Mon-Fri: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sat: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cuban. Pressed sandwiches, homemade sides, desserts
Taste of Tampa Bay’s Best Cuban Sandwich
Cleanliness: Up To Par
Worth Noting: Catering available
Specialties: The Cuban!
Payment Methods: Cash, Debit Cards, and Major Credit Cards