28 Aug 6 must-eat Cuban sandwiches in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples — JLB Picks
Chef-owner Tim Yoa of Artisan Eatery in south Fort Myers shares three tips for making a Cuban sandwich that’s unique.
I’m not sure there’s a sandwich more perfect than the Cuban.
Spoken like a true South Floridian, I know.
But think about it: the play of roast pork against sweet ham, the twang of mustard and pickles, the pressed bread that shatters into a spray of tiny crumbs — all of it held together with gooey Swiss cheese. My mouth’s watering just typing it.
As I continue down this National Sandwich Month march (Final stop: Obesity!), this week I’m honoring the Cuban. It helps that Thursday is National Cuban Sandwich Day, a hoax of a “holiday” that nonetheless attracts creators of food lists such as myself.
Southwest Florida may not be a foodie mecca, but man we’ve got some good Cubanos.
Casa Rojas Cuban Bakery
Cuban sandwich aficionados, this is the place to start. Casa Rojas is ground-zero for Cuban sandwiches locally. It’s the bakery that makes the bread that supplies so many other of the area’s Cuban joints. For Casa Rojas’ Cubano, it takes that bread and layers it with house-roasted pork and all the classic accouterments. It wraps it in paper and pairs it with a cafe Cubano, if you like. The result is a great Cuban sandwich, with the perfect post-sandwich pick-me-up, too.
(728 Pine Island Road, Cape Coral; 239-573-9998; find it on Facebook)
Fernandez The Bull
From Cape Coral to Naples — I wouldn’t send you to the southern wilds of Collier County for anything less than Fernandez. The area’s oldest Cuban restaurant also makes one of the area’s geratest Cuban sandwiches. Fernandez loads its Cubanos with so much juicy pork that thick shreds of it tumble from the sides. The bread is just right. The cheese is just melty. There’s a reason this place has been around for 33 years: the constant pursuit of perfection in all it does.
(two locations in Naples; fernandezthebull.com)
The Gathering Place
Of all the delicious Cuban sandwiches in Southwest Florida, this might be the hardest to find (which makes it all the more fun, right?). The Gathering Place is without question my favorite restaurant located in the nurses’ station of an assisted-living-facility-turned-business-park. It crafts its Cubano with hunks of slow-braised pork and thick layers of ham. The bread’s not quite traditional, nor are the seasonings on the meat. But the cheese is gooey, the pickles are bright and the service is so genuinely friendly you can’t help but stay awhile. Who knew an old nursing home could be this deliciously fun?
(8359 Beacon Blvd., south Fort Myers; 239-425-2626; thegatheringplacefortmyers.com)
The Gathering Place crafts its Cuban sandwich with a thick layer of pulled pork. (Photo: Special to The News-Press)
Martha’s Cuban Cafe
This place isn’t for everyone. Or should I say: Martha isn’t for everyone. Owner Martha Lopez is part drill sergeant, part masterful Cuban cook. I fear her the way I feared my immigrant grandmother, tiptoeing around her cautiously, worried that any drastic action might impede the meal to come. But Ms. Lopez’s food makes up for any yelling you might here during the lunch rush. Her velvety black beans, her from-scratch habanero sauce, her Cuban sandwich pressed thin and crisp. Everything she makes is delicious, made ever more so by just a twinge of familial fear.
(17660 S. Tamiami Trail, San Carlos Park; 239-333-6399; find it on Facebook)
This is the second time this National Sandwich Month that I’ve given Artisan a nod. I’m not playing favorites. This place is just that good. Artisan’s Little Havana sandwich is a Cubano as translated by chef-owner Tim Yoa. That means sous-vide pork loin, Virginia ham, half-sour pickles and house-made, stone-ground mustard finished with beer. The combination is familiar but fresh, not quite a Cuban but beautifully and unmistakably Cuban-esque.
(8951 Daniels Parkway, south Fort Myers; 239-887-4844; artisaneatery.com)
Tropicaya Fresh Produce
Head to the back of this produce stand and you’ll find freezers filled with local ice cream and a small menu board humbly touting this Cuban sandwich. Tropicaya’s Cubanos come premade out of a refrigerator where they’re wrapped in parchment paper. The counter worker warms and crisps them on a press, till they’re flattened to less than half of their original size. The result is gooey and meaty with a shattering crunch. Buy some tomatoes or Pine Island mangoes while you’re there. Those have a much better chance of making it home intact.
(3220 SW Pine Island Road, Cape Coral; 239-282-0741; facebook.com/tropicaya)