I am often asked where to get good Cuban food. Considering when I was growing up this island was little Cuba, there are very few places I really like. Now I'm not saying that other places aren't good. I'm just going to tell you a little bit about my favorite place to buy Cuban food. And what makes it "authentic Cuban" to me.
#1 - A location in a neighborhood. Almost always on a corner. With chairs or benches, so that you can sit with your Cafe' Con Leche and read the Key West Citizen, check out the weather, and form opinions on both. You should feel as comfortable as you are in your living room, and expect to have friends "drop by". Once you've read the Citizen (5 minutes tops, most people just read the Citizens Voice and the Crime Report) and have observed the weather you are an expert in these subjects, like your friends (meaning pretty much anyone wandering up) will be. Then you can debate the different aspects of these subjects. Except the weather in the summer. In the summer it's just hot. Or really hot, miserable hot, #!%*!*# hot, etc. This winter people really had a lot of good stories because for Key West it was really, really cold. Yes I know it was brutal up north but I never lived there to compare and "OMG" 47 degrees? We all had to drink extra Cuban coffee. And I've never been a big coffee drinker.
The entrance. Extra points for good doors as this means it can hold some of the A/C in. This is really important in the summer. A lot of Cuban coffee shops just have a little window. Usually at a laundromat. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I think whenever you are doing laundry you need a bucci (espresso) to give you energy to get through the drudgery of doing the laundry. In the heat. Note the hours on the door. Business in the morning and afternoon only because after all the coffee making and cooking the shopkeepers need to go home and cook for family. Cubans love to eat.
Condiments, olive oil, some tomato sauce. Some of the basics for Cuban cooking. With some "healthy" things like nuts and trail mix thrown in because sadly all of the neighborhoods in Key West are pretty much gentrified now.
Your Cuban sodas, and cooking pots. With a few more healthy things like tea and V8 thrown in. I doubt the V8 is the biggest seller. Sports trophies, most likely baseball, the great Cuban pastime are a must.
Newspapers and brooms...on a trap.
More newspapers and pots. The pots on the bottom are great for paella. And on the right the ever important "Cuban mop". If you haven't seen a Cuban do a cleaning dance with one of these you haven't lived. They just throw a wet rag down, attack it with the mop and go to town. It's a true art. One I gave up on learning...must be something with the hips.
5 Brothers merchandise. You've got your coffee beans, your hot sauce, your T- Shirts. One of my proudest possessions is my 5 Brothers apron.
Mouth watering pastries and snacks like papas rellenas - a concoction of mashed potatoes stuffed with piccadillo, then fried. I tried to make these once....totally trashed the kitchen. Don't try it, just go to 5 Brothers, it was not a pretty sight.
More sweets, and some beautiful avocados picked out of a yard just begging for a little key lime and salt. That right there is a lunch by itself!
The signage. Classic. Love it. And the machine on the right that is one of many in Key West that help to fuel our little island. I can't tell you how many of our visitors complain to me because we don't have a Starbucks on almost every corner. They can keep their Starbucks I say, what's the point of traveling when you just eat and drink the same things you have at home or just about anywhere? Just try the Cafe' con leche. Extra large only $2.75!
Gotta have cigars.
And tools to slice your plantains, light the stove to fry them, and another tool to smash them and fry them again. It's all just a fantastic mix of some of the most seemingly random things. Just about anything you can think of and then some.
But my main reason for going there is this. Plain, simple, eaten on the bench while it's still hot. Although they have many delicious Cuban dishes, with specials every day - this sandwich always brings me back.
Nothing, and I mean nothing tastes like my childhood in Key West like the Cuban mix at 5 Brothers. I hope they stay open forever. Or at least until I master the art of the Cuban mop, which I guarantee is the same thing!