That Magical Animal

Our Latest Obsession: Medianoche at Flor de Cuba

When only this Cubano alternative will do, head toward Bear Creek.

By Alice Levitt November 3, 2016

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Medianoche, $7.50.

Image: Alice Levitt

In some ways, progress is adulteration. If it weren't for fusion, there would be no pluots or yuzu, for example. But sometimes becoming too popular can be less than favorable for a dish. We've probably all had a version of a banh mi that had little in common with an actual banh mi at one pub or other. Over time, our interpretation of that dish may be forever adulterated, whether it's calling ground-beef cottage pie "shepherd's pie" (historically that dish was made with lamb, often braised rather than minced) or applying the name "goulash" to American chop suey. 

Despite its popularity, the Cubano has largely resisted that fate. No matter where you order one, chances are, it won't be too far from the basics. But when you can score a real one, made the way Cuban God intended, it's even better. A step up even from that? An authentic medianoche

What's the difference? Really just the bread, which is softer and sweeter (think eggy challah) than the baguette-like loaf used in a Cubano. Which means that just one of the myriad things that gave me agita about 2014 cinematic atrocity, Chef, was the fact that the main character's use of King's Hawaiian bread in his legendary sandwiches meant he was really making medianoches, not Cubanos. 

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Inside Flor de Cuba.

Image: Alice Levitt

But that's immaterial. What matters is the fact that Flor de Cuba, which shares shopping center space in Bear Creek with two churches, Indian and Vietnamese restaurants, and something called "Funky Monkey Playland," makes a version that hits all the right notes. It was an emotional challenge to skip the $7.99 lunch buffet and gigantic menu of Cuban specialties (there are 18 dishes just under the category of "beef"), but I was there for the sandwich. 

The fact that the restaurant also has a bakery case up front speaks to the fact that its staff knows something about dough. The bread itself is yellow with egg yolk and not too sweet. It's griddled crisp and presented in a paper sleeve, which makes eating it feel a bit like unwrapping a gift. And don't all the best presents have Swiss cheese oozing from within? I wouldn't have minded a bit more mustard, though crisp pickles lent almost enough acid to the thick layers of ham that enveloped meaty roast pork. Combined, there is enough flesh to create an effect akin to biting into a steak. Any zip I missed from the light application of mustard was restored with a plastic cup of mojo de ajo (garlic mojo) on the side, which vibrated with lime. It was just as good for dipping plantain chips, which I chose in favor of French fries.

I was concerned that pairing the sandwich with freshly squeezed cantaloupe juice might be overkill. It was pure pleasure, even when pieces of melon that weren't fully blended got stuck in the straw. The only bad news was that I went alone and couldn't sample more. Not even torrejas en almibar, sweet French toast served on the dessert menu. If it uses more of the same bread, I'm sold.

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