Queen of the Cubans

Michelle Faedo

By Kimberley Lovato

Tampa, Florida is home to year round sunshine, a well-designed airport, and a signature sandwich. That’s right—And I’m not just saying that for effect. The city council officially declared The Cuban the city’s “Signature Sandwich” last April, calling the varied ingredients “a symbol of the diverse city.“

I lived in Tampa/St. Pete for 5 years and ate my share of Cubans. While there are plenty of places that make them, some good, some just “meh,” the undisputed Queen of the Cuban is Michelle Faedo, a 3rd generation Tampanian whose loyal customers follow her mobile kitchen, Michelle Faedo’s On The Go, around the city to satisfy their cravings for a sandwich that’s so good it has won numerous state and citywide contests, including the city’s 2nd annual Cuban Sandwich Festival in March.

According to Faedo, a good Cuban begins with quality ingredients. Sweet ham, the best salami, quality mustard, superb Swiss cheese, pickles, and pork (that Faedo roasts herself), all layered and pressed on crunchy Cuban bread that’s been scored with a palm frond from the iconic La Segunda Central Bakery, a place Faedo used to visit with her grandmother from whom honed her own cooking skills.

Despite the name (and some grumbling from a certain South Florida city that claim it as their own—sit down Miami) the Cuban’s birthplace is Tampa—Ybor City to be exact—a neighborhood northeast of downtown once dominated by a thriving cigar industry. Cuban immigrants arrived in early 1900s to work in the factories, bringing with them their favorite midday snack—bread stuffed with sliced meat called a “mixto.” Nearby grocers and cafés began making them too, renaming it The Cuban for the workers who ate them.

Faedo sells her Cubans from her food truck whose roving location is announced on her Facebook page. While the stacked sandwich is a top seller, Faedo whips up other local specialties too—like Devil Crabs, a crabmeat croquette made with stale Cuban bread, deep-fried and divine.

“There are so many wonderful things that I can do with food, but I want to keep Tampa heritage alive. I want to serve the things I’ve grown up with; I’m a Tampanian and proud of it,” she said.

I’ve tried many a Cuban sandwich since I left Florida. Inevitably I shake my head after the first bite. None have compared to Tampa’s. The city has a signature sandwich for a reason, and if the city council were really smart they’d sign off on a street named after Faedo too.

Her Cuban is that good.

The Foodie Five

1. What is your favorite food memory from childhood?

My favorite food memory as a kid was going to my grandmother’s house and having her make me white rice, black beans, a Palomilla steak, and sweet plantains.

2. You’re moving to a new kitchen in 5 minutes and can only take one gadget along with you. What do you grab and why?

Spice smasher. There’s nothing like being able to grind your own spices.

3. No one’s looking. What is your secret food fetish?

Ice cream. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it has to be peanut butter and chocolate!

4. Fill in the blanks: “For my dream meal I would love ____________ to prepare a meal for me and I’d enjoy it with a glass of ____________________.”

I would love Emeril Lagasse to prepare a meal for me and I’d drink it with a glass of red wine.

5. Congratulations, you have carte blanche to dine any where in the world! Where would you go and why?

It’s been a long time dream to go to Greece and experience their fantastic cuisine.

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Kimberley Lovato is a Lowell Thomas Award winning writer whose travel and food articles have appeared in national and international magazines. She prefers to discover the city, and the world, one bite or sip at a time. Read more Foodie 5 posts on her blog www.fluentinfabulous.com and www.kimberleylovato.com