Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Road Food: Orlando’s Vega’s Cafe a Longtime Winner

October 6th, 2009 · 6 Comments

vegas-cafe-sign

EN ROUTE TO NEW ORLEANS – My partner, out of the blue, decided we should stop for a Cuban in Orlando – a sandwich, that is. And he was looking at only one spot for it: Vega’s Cafe.

It had been years since I was here, but I was pleasantly surprised nothing much had changed — just a new owner (of five years) who bought it from the original owner and swears he never touched the recipe for their famous sandwich.

“We use the same meats, the same cheese, the same bread – everything. Nothing changed,” Jorge Gonzales, the new owner, said.

A classic not to be tweaked

All you neophytes: A Cuban sandwich is one of those classics – you know why once you eat a perfect one.

It’s a beautiful melange of sliced roast pork, sliced ham, dill pickles (a must), mustard and cheese – put between crusty Cuban bread (white fluffy inside, crusty outside), then pressed in a sandwich grill known as a plancha, till flattened and hot and melty.

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This is the freshly made Cuban sandwich before it’s pressed.

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This is it, being smashed and grilled in the plancha.

Some like it toastier

It’s in there grilling for 2 minutes “if the grill is hot and we’re busy” or “maybe five, six minutes if we just reheat the grill and it’s slow,” Gonzalez said. “Some customers want it more toasted – some not so toasted. Whatever the customer wants.”

The owner gets up at 4 a.m. once or twice a week to go to Tampa to pick up the freshly baked Cuban bread from a bakery near Ybor City.

“It’s the best,” he says – and it’s key to a good sandwich along with the rest of the quality ingredients.

Half is a lot, but you’ll want more

The special was $4.95 – half a sandwich and soup: black bean and rice (rice on bottom of bowl), always on the menu, or the day’s special: garbanzo bean this day. We opted for black beans and rice and were asked if we wanted onion on top (nod your head up and down!) and we were happy. It’s a bowlful of good beans (not highly flavored, but solid and tasty and with juice — so important to soaking into the rice).

The 8-inch sandwich is always sliced on the near diagonal – a nice way to display its insides.

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Before I could take a photo of ours, we  dug in and polished them off, so above is a photo of our table neighbor’s – he opted for garbanzo soup and a Malta.

 

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Who needs ambience?

It’s counter service to order, then they bring it to your table on a cafeteria tray. The place is “nada” to look at, though clean and bright, and the owners are fun to chat with if he’s not busy. Picnic tables outside handle the overflow.

There are other choices: a grilled chicken sandwich, and the medianoche sandwich – it doesn’t have ham, and it’s on a different bread, or sometimes, the same. My vote goes with the traditional Cuban.  And by the way, if you get this sandwich from a Cuban shop in Tampa or from one owned by a Tampa Cuban, it will probably include Genoa salami — others don’t.

Two thumbs up: Something tells me I’m in for another one on the way back. It’s in Orlando, on SR 50, aka Colonial Drive, about 4 miles east of I-4. Tell them you read all about it my site – it will please Sr. Gonzalez to know he’s on the web as I promised him when I got permission to photograph him at work.

Vega’s Cafe

  • 1835 E. Colonial Dr. (S.R. 50), Orlando, FL 32803
  • Phone: (407)-898-5106

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Charmayne // Oct 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Hey, Jan. If you order a Cuban sandwich in Michigan, you might get prosciutto instead of roasted pork! At another local restaurant, they add lettuce and tomato. (Shakes head.) Needless to say, I make my own at home (but I can’t get the good bread), or I just wait until I get to SoFla.

  • 2 ksteinhoff // Oct 6, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Do you remember the little sandwich shop on the north side of Belvedere between Lake and Parker, near the Army-Navy Surplus store? It was run by a guy named Pedro Blacno to his Hispanic customers and Peter White to us Gringos.

    He had been an architect in Cuba, but opened the sandwich shop here in the states. His Cuban sandwiches were great, but he also served a sub similar or equal to Russo’s Classic Sub.

    I got to talking with him about it one day and he confessed his secret.

    “I used to go into Russo’s and buy a dozen sandwiches a week so I could take them apart and see exactly how they were made. I’d hang around early in the morning to see who his vendors were and then I’d order exactly the same bread, meats and other ingredients. Finally, I was able to produce THIS sandwich.”

    I’ve often wondered what happened to Peter/Pedro White/Blanco. I suspect he’s doing well in whatever he decided to do next.

  • 3 Jan Norris // Oct 7, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Russo’s has no equal, Mr. Steinhoff. But yes, I do remember him and his subs — excellent. I never had his Cuban sandwiches, however…but I do love the ones from the little deli around the corner from you on Bunker near Garden.
    Yes, Mike, the Tulipan’s are also pretty good, but Vega’s has them beat.

  • 4 Carol Keefer // Oct 11, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Dang, reading this and the donut story has made me hungry. But that’s ok – will cook a pork loin tonight. Still, makes me think that another trip to Florida should be in my plans.

  • 5 Cafe World // Nov 22, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Jan,

    seems like I need to try one of those sandwiches, because it looks delicious. Especially the one where it`s splitted.. yummy!

  • 6 Lidia // Mar 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    My neighbor told me about Vega’s Cafe and after a few months I had lunch there. Needless to say, the Cuban sandwich was perfect, the caldo Gallego was very good, and yes, I tried his flan. I though no one could beat me at making a flan but I must agree that Vega’s flan was better than mine.
    Vega’s Cafe has a very pleasant atmosphere with friendly people, good food, and reasonable prices.
    The atmosphere is pleasant and warm.

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