Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
The Cubana is not to be trifled with.
The grill at The Patron Kitchen (70 B Wildwood Ave., Rio Dell) can’t be more than 3 by 4 feet but the output, most of which winds up on a bolillo roll, is impressive. Two women with their hair in matching glossy black topknots, lay out meats, tortillas and chopped peppers in separate quadrants on the flattop, assembling burgers for a table of construction workers and a quesadilla to go for a cop.
One of the women is Lety Gonzales, who opened the place in the beginning of June with her husband Geraldo Gonzales. (You might find him in Fortuna operating the Patron truck.) Ask what her favorite item on the menu is and she may tell you the Cubana, though she admits she can only manage half ($13.50). Try not to hold it against her when you absolutely ruin your shirt with this behemoth of a sandwich.
Yes, Mr. Actually-that’s-not-a-Cuban-sandwich, I see you with your hand up. Note the feminine ending on the sandwich’s name, as opposed to the roast pork, ham, pickle and Swiss Cubano. The Cubana is a lady and, like many ladies, is doing twice as much to earn a spot on the menu and the canon of Mexican tortas.
Making one of these tortas takes up much of the grill, loaded as it is with salchicha (a split and grilled hot dog that I will from now on call by this far prettier name), thick ham, chorizo, thinly sliced and breaded beef milanesa, cheese, tomato, onion, avocado, pineapple, grilled pickled jalapeño slices and a smear of red chipotle. Take your time rereading that, possibly with a glass of water. Even if you don’t get it with the pepper jack cheese, it’s an onslaught of spice and salty meat, sweet fruit, vinegary tartness and melted cheese that only a sturdy bolillo could contain. (Sidebar: I am now fully converted to the bolillo as the best bun for burgers over ¼ pound.)
Are you going to be OK if you eat the whole thing? Friend, I don’t know. But there’s no shame in wrapping up half to go — only in not trying.