Evolving Food

A USF assistant librarian has researched the evolution of food in Tampa, including the Cuban sandwich, as a way to look at the city’s history.


A Cuban sandwich at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Photo: Courtesy Columbia Restaurant


By Brandi Hollis

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (June 24, 2013) – Tampa’s history is rich with stories of immigrants coming to America, and as they made a new life for themselves, they gave Tampa a distinctive flavor through the food they shared. And no meal has become more iconic for Tampa than the Cuban sandwich.


The Cuban sandwich is so intertwined with Tampa’s rich history that it was crowned the signature sandwich of the city of Tampa by the Tampa City Council last year.


The official Tampa sandwich is made with thinly sliced ham and mojo roast pork layered over salty salami and Swiss cheese, all topped off with a few pickles and a drizzle of mustard, then hot-pressed in fresh Cuban bread.


Andy Huse, assistant librarian in Special Collections at the University of South Florida Tampa library, has researched the evolution of food in the city of Tampa as part on an ongoing project to document Tampa’s history through its food and restaurateurs. While he says there have been many contributions from immigrants to Tampa’s restaurants, he admits the Cuban sandwich is the most recognized in Tampa.


“I learned the history of the community here through the food and the culture, and the Cuban sandwich is of course a part of all that,” said Huse. “It’s the thing people are most interested in, they’re drawn to it.”


As part of his research into the progression of Tampa cuisine, Huse was approached to write the history of Ybor City’s oldest restaurant and possibly one of the first eateries to have a Cuban sandwich on its menu, The Columbia Restaurant. The book was published in 2009 and is a personal account of the restaurant’s founding in 1905 and the relationship it has had with its loyal patrons over the years.


The Tampa Bay region finds the Cuban sandwich so delicious and iconic that it has inspired a debate as hot as the sandwich itself with Miami over the perfect ingredients. In Miami, salami on a Cuban sandwich is a cardinal sin, and the rivalry continues between the two cities on which has the “authentic” Cuban sandwich.


Huse laughs at the dispute.


“There’s no such thing as an original Cuban,” he said.


Huse points out that while the sandwich may have originated in Cuba, they wouldn’t have called it a Cuban sandwich. Huse said the Cuban sandwich as it’s known today probably started out as a “mixtl,” or mixed sandwich, made from whatever was available.


“Here in Tampa, first, it coalesced into something stable,” said Huse, “where it had a certain number of ingredients, certain things it couldn’t have on it to be called a Cuban.”


Although there certainly is an overabundance of restaurants in Tampa claiming to make the best Cuban, Huse prefers to create his own Cuban sandwiches as home by roasting his own pork and baking his own Cuban bread.


“If there’s something you really enjoy, don’t be too intimidated, learn how to make it,” he said. “It’s incredibly empowering to learn how to cook, learn how to feed yourself and the people you love.”


Huse recommends a few places that serve a good Cuban sandwich:


The Columbia Restaurant

2117 E 7th Ave

Ybor City, FL 33605

(813) 248-4961


Wright’s Gourmet House

1200 South Dale Mabry Highway

Tampa, FL 33629

(813) 253-3838


Brocato’s Sandwich Shop

5021 E Columbus Dr

Tampa, FL 33619

(813) 248-9977