By Doug Deal
Macon Community News
I am always on the lookout for something different when it comes to restaurants, and sometimes something new brings you back to an old favorite.
Such is the case with Cuban Island Cafe. Years ago, the restaurant at 402 GA Route 247, Suite 300 in Bonaire, was home to Emilio’s Cafe. After a change in ownership, it earned a new name and a few updates to the menu and decor.
It is a bit of a drive, just south of Robins Air Force Base and 30 minutes from most parts of Macon. So when I had heard it had closed, I had not bothered to make the trek in years. Then, after making a wrong turn out of the Museum of Aviation one rainy afternoon, I chose to turn around in their parking lot and noticed the new name and that they were still serving Cuban.
Instead of heading home under a deluge, I decided to stop in for a quick lunch. I was hooked once again. This lead to another dinner later in the week and yet another lunch a shortly after that.
On my first visit, I went with what I most frequently order in Cuban restaurants, ropa vieja, which means “old laundry” in Spanish. This dish is seasoned and stewed flank steak that is then shredded and usually served with rice.
You have three choices of rice at Cuban Island, white, yellow, or “congri.” Congri rice is cooked with black beans, and it was the easy choice.
On the side, I had platanos maduros, which are sweet plantains. Everything was well prepared and delicious. The ropa vieja was tender, similar to a pulled pork, and it had a deep rich flavor without any real heat. Unlike the cuisine from the rest of the Carribean, Cuban food is generally not hot. The beans and rice were also fully flavored and may have been the best part of the meal. On the table, there is a bottle of green sauce, really two of them, as one is the hot version of the other. I am not sure what is in it, but it is an excellent substitute for sour cream with the rice and beans.
On the subsequent dinner, I let my wife order the ropa vieja, and I opted for the lachon asada, which simply means “roasted pork.”
For an appetizer, we split an order of papa rellena, which is a seasoned meat-stuffed potato ball that is then deep-fried. It was a nice change of pace and got our meal off on a sound footing.
Lachon asada was more or less like a pork version of ropa vieja, with a similar stewed texture and shredded consistency. The flavors were also similar to the beef dish, and the same options were available as sides. Once again, I chose the tasty congri rice and sweet plantains.
Since it was dinner, we also had to order tres leches cake, which translates to “three milks” cake. This cake starts as a sponge cake and is soaked in a refrigerator in a bath of various types of milk, generally evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. The end product is an impossibly creamy, almost pudding-like cake that you cannot stop eating.
With dessert, it would have been a crime not to order some Cuban coffee, so we each got a “Carmella,” which is Cafe Bustelo coffee with caramel, whipped cream, and a sprinkle of chocolate.
Our entire meal got better and better with each course, and Cuban coffee was the perfect topper. If you like full-flavored and robust coffee, you should like Cafe Bustelo.
Finally, I went back one more time for lunch to try one more of my favorites, the Cubano sandwich. This sandwich has two types of pork, sweet ham and savory roasted pork. These are then topped with Swiss cheese and pickles, and everything is placed between two mustard laden pieces of Cuban bread. This heap is then cooked in a sandwich press until it has a crispy and lightly browned exterior. Inside, all the flavors meld together into a tasty mash of tangy, sweet, and savory goodness. In my years, I have had more Cuban sandwiches than I could ever hope to count, and this one was worthy of being near the top of my list. The ingredients of a good Cuban sandwich are all important, and Cuban Island Cafe hit each one well.
If you are looking for some good authentic Cuban food, there are few places in Middle Georgia to get it. Cuban Island Cafe is arguably the best in the area and well worth the drive. Think about them the next time you head to the Museum of Aviation. Cuban Island Cafe is open Monday – Thursday from 10:30 AM to 8:30 PM and closes an hour later on Friday and Saturday.