By Bill Citara
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Many pale people will soon flee their frigid habitats to visit friends and relatives here in the Sunshine State. That means they are coming to our houses. Now I don't know about your out-of-town guests, but as soon as mine unpack their bags, they begin to pester me with predictable questions, one of which is invariably: "Do you know a good Cuban joint?" They don't mean Yuca. My answer, I'm proud to say, is, "Yes, as a matter of fact I do." Then I reel off a few favorites. Sergio's is always among them.
The original Sergio's opened on Bird Road in 1975, and there's a new one in Kendall. But I'm speaking of the Coral Way location, just a few blocks east of Miracle Mile. It's a Latin coffee shop, sparsely adorned and brightly lit, with red and white tables set on a hardwood floor. Past the entrance, on the right side of the room, are large picture windows that look out on the parking lot but mainly reflect neon beer signs; on the left is a counter that seats eight. The mostly Cuban clientele, including many families, clearly enjoys the atmosphere as much as the cleanly prepared, low-priced renditions of their favorite foods.
Some of the best are vaca frita, beef smothered in sautéed onions; oxtails, available as the Monday and Saturday specials; and churrasco, a juicy, charbroiled flank steak that, at $9.95, is as expensive as things get. Main courses are accompanied by rice, black beans, and maduros (fried sweet plantains); other sides include croquetas, empanadas, and tamales. These are not so hot. Batidos, sangría, and frosty mugs of beer quench thirsts. Desserts, other than tres leches, are puddings on parade: flan, rice pudding, bread pudding, and boniatillo con coco, a sweet potato-coconut pudding.
3252 Coral Way
Coral Gables, FL 33145
Region: Coral Gables/South Miami
13550 SW 120th St.
Perrine, FL 33177
Region: Cutler Bay/Palmetto Bay
You'd think a feast like this would be enough, but come morning your visitors will probably start harping on breakfast; a few hours later, like clockwork, they'll wonder aloud about lunch. I don't suggest taking them to Sergio's for every meal, though theoretically you could. It is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays; the rest of the week they start serving breakfast at 6:00 a.m. Even at that ungodly hour your guests will brighten with their first sip of café con leche, a cup of steaming hot milk with a tin of café cubano on the side. At lunchtime, sandwich makers pull preassembled media noches from a glass case where they're piled high and insert them into a press. Sergio's, which is famous for its sandwiches, has about twenty types to choose from, some with Cuban fillings such as roast pork or sausage, and even comidas favoritas Americanas like BLT and tuna salad.
On weekends, way past media noche, the sandwiches are served to packed rooms of grateful clubgoers (or, more accurately, goners, since they've finished partying). There really aren't many times of day when Sergio's isn't humming along to the song of a full house. Speaking of which, be sure to keep plenty of fresh orange juice in the refrigerator. People who come to Florida always expect it.