Cooking, Inspired by Grandma, at My Cuban Spot in Brooklyn

Cooking, Inspired by Grandma, at My Cuban Spot in Brooklyn


For pan con lechon, the tangle of pork is topped with sweated onions and matchstick potatoes, poking out of the sides like loose thatch. A New York strip steak seethes satisfyingly in the pan con bistec. The Cuban take on a hamburger, frita, is a soft patty of ground beef and pork bound by tomato paste and stitches of cumin and paprika, slathered with a “secret” sauce of the same ingredients; its appeal might rely on nostalgia.

The roast pork is reprised over rice and inky frijoles simmered in sofrito and red wine vinegar until they are tender but still discrete. The fish of the day, often tilapia, swai or cod, appears burnished by sazón, a Latin spice blend with an orange streak of achiote; it needs nothing more. Best of all is picadillo, ground beef simmered for two hours in crushed tomatoes, with green olives bringing an almost voluptuous brininess. This is the dish that made Mr. Estrada open My Cuban Spot: “I wasn’t able to get a picadillo like my grandma made.” (His version omits the usual raisins. His grandmother used to serve them on the side, because he never liked them.)

On hand to counter the salt and fat are the sodas of Mr. Estrada’s childhood: Materva, a brew of yerba maté, with a lollipop start and an earthy finish; Ironbeer (pronounced Ee-ron-bear), somewhere between Dr Pepper and a melted Creamsicle; and Jupiña, short for jugo de piña (pineapple juice), the sweetest of all.

My Cuban Spot wouldn’t be a ventanita without Café Bustelo, carefully dripped into a tin with sugar — Mr. Estrada uses two tins, mixing one into the other, to keep the measurements exact — and then beaten so the sugar rises in a froth to the top, called espumita. Order a colada, and you get three shots with tiny plastic demitasses, for sharing.

The menu is annotated with notes on the Cubano’s origins (as the lunch of cigar-factory and sugar-mill workers) and memories of pan con lechon, “always done with leftover pork on Christmas Day.” There’s also a cheeky warning in a quote from the sandwich-shop scene in “Scarface,” when Manny rebuffs a customer who demands more ham.

“Que más carne ni más carne, así viene el sandwich men”: More meat, what more meat? That’s how the sandwich comes, man. That’s life.

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