Sometimes, you can smell bread baking. Long ago, when the streets of Ybor City bustled, and Cuban, Italian, and Spanish immigrants filled Ybor City’s wood-framed front porches, the Ferlita Bakery baked 35,000 loaves of Cuban bread weekly, delivering what has become Tampa’s signature bread to homes throughout the neighborhood. Today, Florida State Park ranger Alex Kinder pours ready-made bread mixes into an electric bread maker to fill the historic building with the smell of baking bread. The sweet aroma takes visitors to the Ybor City State Park back in time.
Olives have been around for thousands of years. If you are a fan of these tiny green fruits, you may not know that some of Spain’s best olives were bottled in Tampa!
On any given day, you could find him riding his small scooter up and down the streets of Ybor City. You could not resist his deviled crabs–they were the best!
As a boy growing up in Tampa, Al Perez enjoyed some of the best empanadas he’d ever tasted. A street vendor sold crab and beef turnovers on Saturdays, and Perez never missed a chance to buy one. What could be better than picadillo or crab enchilada folded into the flaky fried dough? Memories of that taste, smell, and texture stood sharply in his memory. Later in life, he became obsessed with recreating those tender, savory turnovers. The empanadas Perez loves so much have a long history.
What does a ten-year-old do on a Saturday morning in early November? Well, that depends on the kid. My family had just moved into a small apartment over a barbershop on 7th Avenue while we waited for our new house to become available. I had never lived on a street that was too busy to play ball on, and there were no vacant lots nearby, but I felt far from trapped.
Having been on strike for 6 months, Cigar workers in Tampa called a workers’ meeting and voted to continue the strike. The Tampa Tribune reported on the meeting and called closed shops “un-American.” When the strike ended 4 months later, it had been the longest and most expensive in the Tampa cigar industry.
Several of Tampa's most notable culinary creations remind us of life's difficulties. The elongated loaves of Cuban bread betray a history of hunger and rationing during Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain. The Cuban sandwich turned those thin loaves into symbols of plenty. Tampa's deviled crab croquettes tell a similar story of want and abundance.
Eighty years ago, Victor Licata opened the Seabreeze Restaurant on the site, blending his beloved Italian cooking with Cuban and Cracker influences. The Seabreeze culled a blue-collar clientele from the workers of nearby industrial facilities. The Licata family arguably invented the deviled crab, a croquette spiked with spicy tomato sauce. Beginning in the 1960s, Robert and Helen Richards supplied the Seabreeze with seafood and later took over the business. Today, the restaurant is defunct, and a fishing family lost its livelihood. The price of doing business in Florida has climbed too high for most fishermen.
Like many people in Tampa, I have taken for granted that I can get a great loaf of La Segunda’s Cuban bread just about anywhere in town. I certainly have eaten my share of it over the years–on the famous “Cuban sandwich,” and of course, in the morning, a Cuban tradition of Cuban toast with a cup of café con leche.
This magazine could have easily been named after the Cuban Sandwich. Today, that savory creation can more easily identify Tampa than the cigar. It can be challenging to find a fine Cuban sandwich like Cuban cigars. Unlike Cuban Cigars, one could argue that the so-called Cuban Sandwich is more Tampa than Havana. As Cigar City Magazine launches its second issue, it is especially appropriate to re-examine our town’s distinctive Sandwich.