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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Viva Cubana! Rockin’ Coffee & More

cuban food in marathon fl

Cute. ‘Twas passing the “smell test” that lured us in;
the exceptionally delish Cuban coffee was a bonus.
It’s nearly impossible to live in the Pacific Northwest without becoming a coffee snob. I am no exception, despite a near 14-year coffee hiatus (broken 4 years ago by Everett WA’s chilly gloom).  Frugal though we are, we rarely hesitate to load up on Peet’s Coffee (sorry, again, Starbucks – Peets doesn’t exude Starbuck’s burnt coffee bean taste) when we provision. 

Marathon’s Juice Paradise Cuban Café, touted its Cuban coffee, something I’d not yet tried and noticed featured in several places in the Florida Keys… My culinary curiosity piqued.  Who am I to turn down a good cuppa Joe? 

cruising life cruising destination marathon florida keys

Oh my YUM!  $27 worth of belly-filling Cuban food for two,
gratuity included.
Besides, I honestly had no idea what Cuban food was like.  It struck me, though, that with the Keys mere 90-mile proximity from Cuba, finding authentic Cuban fare was more likely here than most other parts in the US. 

Perusing their menu, it surprised me to find tamales.   Having enjoyed the rare pleasure of my best friend’s traditional Suarez Mexican family tamales, I found it hard to resist seeing how these alternative origin treats would stack up.   More important, Cuban Café hit the high notes of my most reliable restaurant test-drive gauge -- the place smelled fabulous. There’s a reason a former flame nicknamed me “the food spectrometer.”

cuban restaurant marathon fl

We’ll return to try Juice Paradise Cuban Café’s juices,
though we’re bummed passion fruit juice, our favorite
tropical juice, is not in their lineup.  Dunno… maybe it’s like
expecting sushi in a Chinese restaurant.
Wayne is wonderfully indulgent of my foreign food escapades, particularly when they’re more lowbrow -- relatively inexpensive.  We were hungry and ordered with abandon.  We dug in, to our two gut-busting complete meals plus a pork tamale on the side, one Cuban coffee and one coke.

Wayne’s main consisted of chicken over rice, generous as it was bursting with complex flavors, including strong citrusy undertones, with a side of black beans and yucca (tastes-just-like-potato) fries.

My meal centered around the classic brick-colored shredded beef dish (usually flank) Ropa Vieja, simmered in a tomato-based sauce until it fell apart. Ropa Vieja translates literally to the words "old clothes" in Spanish. The dish gets its name from the shredded meat resemblance to "old clothes". 

cuban coffee sharing in the florida keys

Rolando pours of his precious Cuban coffee
to share in Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor
community room.
My meal was awash in plaintains -- starchy green twice-fried plantains, called tostones, and sweet, buttery-sauted, sweet plantains. Silly me, when the tostones were described as “greens” I was expecting something leafy, not a starch.

The pork tamale came encased in a classic dumpling-like puffy ground corn masa body, embracing tender pieces of pork meat, swimming in sofrito (tomato, onion, garlic etc.).  The tamales were steamed, then served wrapped in cornhusk casing.  Unlike traditional Mexican tamales, the Cuban masa was dotted with corn kernels.

The Cuban coffee?  Intense.  Rich, silky-smooth, sweet and creamy; it was dessert. Click here to learn how to make Cuban coffee.

I was under no illusion this was a low-carb, low sugar, lowfat meal.  Once in a while, it’s okay to be bad, especially when it’s so very very good.  I was glad we’d walked a little ways the Cuban Café, feeling perhaps some of it would get burned off, even if the return walk felt more like a waddle.

A few days later, Rolando, another Boot Key Marina cruiser, shared his take-out Cuban coffee shots from another nearby Marathon restaurant.  It too was phenomenal. 


Conspiratorially, he whispered, leaning forward, “You know, this is good.  The Italians are the ones who really have this down, but this is close….”

Ahhh.  I want to visit Cuba and sample their edible wonders there.  I hope it happens before our culture invades, ruining it with a McDonald’s on every corner; or a Starbucks, for that matter.

A few days ago, anchored outside Compass Cay, Exumas, we traded a 12 oz. Peets coffee bag and my home-made cornbread mix for wine from Jela’s Bill and Carmen, a lovely couple cruisers from Ottawa Canada.  They were dismayed all that was left of their coffee was the instant stuff.  I sensed a loss of mild tragic proportions on their part.


“I feel like we’re totally taking advantage,” Wayne expressed, with some concern after our trade.  “No.  We didn’t,” I responded.  “Trust me, that was a good trade all the way around.”  If I didn’t bring enough coffee before we return stateside, Wayne will understand.

Location, Location
Feb 16, 2014. BAHAMAS. Current location:  Warderick Wells Cay, Exumas (N24.23.624  W.76.37.975). By the time you read this, we'll be in Staniel or Major Cay, Exumas.