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.
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.
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.