I am at this moment eating what may be the best Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had. It may even be better than a previous favorite, from David’s Cafe on South Beach. This one is a little closer to home: it’s from the new Black Bean Deli.
Yes, I said the new Black Bean Deli. BBD, of course, has been a favorite for a long time, serving big-flavored Cuban and Latin dishes from a small, counter-seating-only cubby in Winter Park.
But now there’s a Black Bean Deli on Colonial Drive in Orlando, adding a Latin flair to a neighborhood otherwise dominated by Vietnamese and other Asian eateries.
Cuban food isn’t new to this particular location; it was the previous home to Vega’s Cafe, which was itself a longtime favorite among locals (although the quality -- and reputation -- at Vega’s had flagged a bit in its final years.
The structure that houses Black Bean Deli is an old corner gas station with a bit of a Deco-ish look. Little had been done to it over the years, and it always looked like what it was: a converted service station.
But now it has been prettied up, and it has a more contemporary and youthful feel to it. And finally Black Bean Deli fans can enjoy their meals at the restaurant while sitting at actual tables.
I stopped in recently and ordered the special of the day. It was ropa vieja, which means it was a Tuesday. I also requested a small Cuban. Luckily the fellow taking my order knew that I meant a sandwich, so there was no trouble.
The ropa vieja came with white rice and black beans, some big chunks of fried plantains with firm flesh and a caramelized coating, and a green salad with slices of tomato and cucumber. The shredded beef of the ropa viejo was topped with some peas and roasted peppers. The flavors of the beef and the beans were muted and could have used a bit of a boost, but the quality of all the components was good, and it was a good value for the $9.50 fee.
But oh, that Cuban. First of all, if this was a small Cuban I’d hate to see the large one. It was more than ample, and a full meal in itself.
It was loaded with ample amounts of the appropriate meats -- sweet ham and roasted pork -- and swiss cheese plus pickle slices. A slather of yellow mustard brought a bit of piquancy to the taste. And the fresh Cuban bread, flattened and toasted in the sandwich press, had a nice crispy crunch.
Food is ordered at a counter just inside the door, which is also behind a food-bar seating area. Besides the indoor seating at banquets and free-standing tables (there’s even a side room that was probably once where the gas station’s cash register and counter used to be) there is also an outdoor dining area. It fronts busy Colonial Drive, but that just gives it a proper urban feel.
Black Bean Deli Orlando is at 1835 E. Colonial Drive. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-203-0922.