My Abuela is all knowing. I don’t mean in the respectful "she’s old and wise" way; I mean she literally knows EVERYTHING. My family and I refer to her as 1-800-ASK-NANCY because she just knows it all: movie times, new restaurant openings, history, fashion trends, celebrity behavior, and more.
My whole life I’ve loved hearing her stories. She came to Miami in April of 1962 with my grandfather and my one year old mother to start a new life free of communist Cuba. There was a time period when the family was so poor that all they could afford was cornmeal. Abuela developed an allergic reaction in the form of a gnarly rash, but the cornmeal continued and continued.
A lot has changed since the early 60s for my Abuela, but her love of food has never wavered. So, when I was invited as a guest to try the newest location on Ocean Drive of Havana 1957, I knew who my date HAD to be. Havana 1957 encourages guests to spend Un Dia En La Habana and relive the glory and glamour of old Cuba. There’s no one I would rather experience Old Cuba with than 1-800-ASK-NANCY.
We began our meal with a mango mojito and though Abi doesn’t drink much, she didn’t hesitate to help herself to my beverage and a coy smile appeared on her face. As she passed the drink back to me, with her eyes twinkling, she made a comment about all the mojitos she drank at nightclubs in “Labana" during her younger years.
The Cuban Combo appetizer is a great way to start any meal as it offers a plethora of fried, starchy goodness like: plantain chips, ham croquettes, bite size pork chunks, plantain chips, fried yuca, papa rellena, and tamal. All these things are the foods of my childhood growing up Cuban American in Miami. I believe in the powers of these foods because my grandparents taught me that these foods have history and meaning. This combo is good introduction to friends or family trying Cuban food for the first time as is many of the other items on the Havana 1957 menu, which has four other locations in the Miami area.
In typical 1-800-ASK-NANCY fashion after about five minutes, she started to really get into my role as a food writer and started telling me everything I should post on Instagram, what angles to use for my photos, and her opinions on everything she ate. “Mija, take the picture from above.” “Make sure you write that it's boniato CUBANO” “Las papas rellenas son muy buenas. The meat inside the potato is very flavorful.” I tease her, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After devouring the appetizer, we turned our attention to our entrees. Abuela’s eyes lit up when she saw a dish on the menu that she hasn’t had in years. Tasajo with chunks of fried boñiato Cubano and white rice. Similar to vaca frita, tasajo is a classic Cuban stew with salty, chewy, crunchy meat cooked with all the traditional sofrito flavors. According to 1-800-ASK-NANCY, it’s important to serve it with something sweet like the Cuban sweet potato to balance the acidity from the tomato in the meat.
I ordered the bistec de puerco encebollado with moro and tostones (Abuela insisted I order it so she could try it). The pork was very tender, juicy and expertly seasoned. The sweetness of the onions complimented the subtle acid from the mojo marinated pork. I sampled the tasajo, and I have to say I’m sad I’ve missed out on it my whole life. But that’s also part of what’s beautiful about Cuban cuisine; it’s so expansive and unique that I’m learning something new all the time.
We finished off our meal with a couple desserts. We were very full, but like any self respecting Cuban, we pushed through with a tres leches and a guava cheesecake. The cheesecake is perfectly sweet and paired with guava shells. I know Abuela loved it because she barely shared it with me. The classic tres leches at Havana 1957 is wet and saucy; there’s nothing worse than a dry tres leches.
We spent the car ride home discussing Old Cuba and the detrimental downward spiral of Communism. She told me more stories about my great grandparents on my late grandfather’s side and the division that the government created in their family. My grandfather didn’t speak to either of his two brothers for over forty years because they were Castro supporters and saw my grandparents as traitors for wanting a better life for themselves and their daughters.
There is so much ugliness in the world all around us everyday, but the joy of food is that it can bring us together and allow us to be transported to another time and place. Meals with my Abuela quickly turn into history lessons amongst the familiar flavors of our heritage. These are experiences that I will cherish for the rest of my life with my abuela/best friend. My trip to dine at Havana 1957 ended up giving me yet another treasured snapshot into my family history and my Abuela’s life in Cuba.
1410 Ocean Dr,
Miami Beach, FL 33139