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A Historic Vote for Tampa's Cuban Sandwich, Pressed or Cold

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Freshly baked Cuban bread with the traditional palmetto leaf just out of the ovens at La Segunda Central Bakery in Ybor City.

Tampa City Council will vote today on a resolution “designating and authenticating” the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich.” But, Miami’s Cuban community disputes Tampa’s claim to the sandwich.

The mixed meat sandwich, originally called a “mixto”, became popular in Tampa among Cuban cigar factory workers in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

The resolution specifies the ingredients of the authentic Tampa Cuban sandwich as sweet ham, mojo-marinated roast pork, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard and Genoa salami.

Miami’s mayor takes exception to salami on a Cuban – saying it belongs on a pizza. Ybor City residents say the Italian salami and the sandwich represents Tampa’s rich immigrant mix.

Even within Tampa’s Latin community there are arguments over the iconic sandwich. Should a Cuban be served pressed or cold, with a slice of turkey or without?

Yet, all agree on one critical ingredient: Tampa Cuban bread. It must have a crunchy - thin crust, a soft, doughy interior and baked with a palmetto leaf splitting the center.

“Cuban bread is a little bit sweet, a little bit sour and it also has that salt flavor when a loaf comes out right,” said Copeland More, co-owner of La Segunda Central bakery in Ybor City. His great grandfather opened it in 1915.

His dad, Tony More, said La Segunda bread is better tasting than bread made in Miami.

“If you look at a loaf of Cuban bread from Miami and you put one of Tampa’s Cuban bread, the appearance is difference,” the elder More said. “This (Tampa’s loaf) is much darker looking, Miami’s is pale white. You cut it and Miami’s just crumbles apart, this (Tampa’s) one doesn’t.”

At La Segunda, loaves still made in the traditional length, 36 inches, with a palmetto leaf down the center. The dough is dried for 6 hours to create the crisp crust. Loaves are baked directly on the hearth, not in a pan. The Mores won’t cut corners out of respect to their history and their culture.

“Anybody can put ham and cheese in a sandwich and call it whatever they want to,” Tony More said. “But, Tampa Cuban bread is unique. You’re not going to find it anywhere else in the whole world probably.”

The cigar worker families of last century have become Tampa’s entrepreneurs. Michelle and Robert Faedo represent the new generation. They sold their restaurant and now serve Cubans, deviled crab and burgers out of a food truck.

“At rallies, I’ve had people that came from Miami and told me ‘listen I’m from Miami, I think we’ve got the best,’” Michelle Faedo said. “And they ate my Cuban sandwich and came back to my window and said ‘you know what that’s one of the best Cubans we’ve ever had.’”

Her husband also a Tampa native is a bit incredulous that Miami’s Cuban community would try to claim Tampa’s historic sandwich.

“You know just because there are a lot of Cubans in Miami, it doesn’t mean that the Cuban sandwich is from there,” Robert Faedo said.

Tampa has been serving up some form of a Cuban sandwich for more than 100 years according to Andrew Huse. The University of South Florida research librarian wrote a book on the history of Tampa’s oldest Spanish-Cuban restaurant, the Columbia.

“My argument is: we were having Cuban sandwiches here when Miami was still the glean in an alligator’s eye,” Huse said. “It (Miami) didn’t even exist yet. So, I’m not sure what they’re saying their claim to fame is - that their’s is the correct Cuban, or that their’s is better? In any case, I think they’re wrong on all counts”

It could come to a showdown in Tampa this May 26th at the Latin Times Cuban sandwich contest. But, Robert Faedo has a suggested rule: Miami vendors shouldn’t be allowed to use Cuban bread made in Tampa.

“Now, that would be a great contest,” Faedo said. “But Miami has to use their products and we stick to our product.”

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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