By Doug Deal
Macon Community News
For anyone who has traveled to or lived in South Florida, the Cuban sandwich is probably something with which you are familiar. Others may have been lucky enough to stumble across it at a sandwich shop or perhaps at a place like the Publix Deli and take a chance on something different. If you haven’t ever had one, you are missing out on one of the best sandwiches ever made.
There are a handful of places in Macon, as well as in the surrounding areas, that make them, but we chose only two to feature this month: the Three Countries Restaurant and Spud Dogs. We chose these two because they make fantastic versions of the classic sandwich while they also have their own take on the interpretation.
A Cuban sandwich, traditionally, is composed of 6 delicious ingredients: slow-cooked shredded pork, sweet ham, mustard, swiss cheese, pickles, and Cuban bread. This compilation is then flattened and cooked in a sandwich press and served hot, generally with a triangular bias cut. We don’t believe in labeling anything “authentic” as this basic recipe has been modified many times and many ways. In some places, even mayonnaise and salami can be found inside the pressed bread. Food develops organically over time, and South Florida is a large region with a lot of people who bring their own variations to the mix.
The first Cuban sandwich I tried was from Three Countries, located at 195 Spring Street. The name of the restaurant is a tribute to the three influences in their cuisine: American, Cuban and Mexican flavors are found in different dishes, and sometimes they are even united in Three Countries’ menu. There, you can find chips and salsa, tacos, hot wings, ropa vieja, and of course, Cuban sandwiches.
Their version is most similar to what I am familiar with from my youth. The bread has a soft texture on the inside, but a flaky, brown, toasted exterior that reminds me of how these sandwiches are served in South Florida.
The savory, shredded pork mixes with the sweet ham and swiss cheese with a hint of mustard and mild tang of the pickles to set off an explosion of flavor that takes me back to my middle school years in Fort Lauderdale. Each element contributes ever so slightly to the final taste of the sandwich, but still, each individual flavor is absolutely necessary to the overall taste experience. Nothing is redundant or gratuitous. Remove even one ingredient, and the thrill would be gone.
Three Countries starts you out with in-restaurant made chips and their superb slightly-hot salsa, but I also got fried plantains on the side to complete the experience. Frankly, their Cuban is one of the best sandwiches I have ever had, and it has been consistently top-notch over many years of eating at their restaurant.
Spud Dogs at 490 Cherry Street was up next. As the name suggests, Spud Dogs has a large variety of baked potatoes and hotdogs with various themes indicative of their toppings. Although it did not disappoint, their Cuban sandwich was different from what I experienced at Three Countries. One of the most significant differences is that Spud Dogs uses their pulled pork barbeque for the slow cooked pork portion of their version of the sandwich. There was a bit of smokiness you usually don’t find in a Cuban, and I found it to be intriguing and delicious. It is also a smart way to expand the menu without requiring additional ingredients.
The second most significant difference is the bread. Instead of the crisp and flaky exterior offered by Three Countries, the bread used at Spud Dogs has a softer, sandwich-roll quality. I suspect it is a combination of factors such as Spud Dogs does not a full sandwich press (no room) and they press their Cuban sandwiches on the grill. Also, although I cannot identify the bread, it is clearly not Cuban bread.
That said, it is not any better or worse than the sandwich at Three Countries, just a unique take on the Cuban sandwich. There is still the tangy mixture of mustard and pickles with the cheese and sweetness of the ham. Only, for this one, you have the added note of smokiness from the pork, which really sets this one apart from other Cubans I have had. Spud Dogs presents a tasty variation on the theme that is well worth experiencing, whether you are new to the Cuban or if it’s an old favorite.
Both sandwiches (the full-sized at Spud Dogs) are bigger than you really can eat, they come at a reasonable price, and they have excellent service from owners who take pride in their food. Each restaurant is casual and relaxed, but if you are in a hurry, call ahead.
Spud Dogs is open from 8 AM – 4 PM every day except Sunday and Monday. It is one of the few restaurants downtown that offer Coke Zero Calorie, and even if you don’t want a Cuban, that is reason enough to stop by.
The Three Countries is open for business every day except Sunday from 11 AM – 8 PM. They have a delicious tres leches cake and flan available for dessert.