Can Miami Handle the Tampa Cuban Sandwich?

Pressing the Tampa Cuban sandwich.
Pressing the Tampa Cuban sandwich. Photo by SRL Media
Louis Randazzo is on a mission to give the Tampa Cuban sandwich its rightful place in the proverbial South Florida sun.

A Tampa native of Italian descent, Randazzo opened his Tampa Cuban Sandwich Company at the Yellow Green Farmers Market on Sheridan Street in Hollywood this past weekend, offering what he insists is a better Cuban than the versions that proliferate in Miami.

First off, Randazzo thinks Miami Cuban bread lacks texture. "It seems like Cuban bread in Miami is fluffy," he gripes. "It's soft on the outside — and soft on the inside. Even if you press it, it tends to have a medianoche feel to it."

That's not a compliment.

Tampa bread, Randazzo says, is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. He sources his from Mike's Bakery in Tampa. From there, Randazzo adds sweet ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, Genoa salami, pickle chips, mayonnaise, and mustard.

Just a touch of salami, Randazzo clarifies. "I use three half-slices on a large Cuban sandwich. That's all you need to have the right flavor profile for a proper Cuban sandwich. It's an enhancement."

He's right.

Randazzo's Tampa Cuban is delicious. Fresh off the plancha, the bread delivers a perfect crack when bitten into, and the spices in the salami really do take the sandwich to another dimension.

Miami sandwich purists who might be tempted to pull out their hair at the very thought of salami on a Cuban sandwich should know that when it comes to the Cuban, most roads point to Tampa.

The Cuban sandwich was first sold in Tampa by Francisco Ferlita. Born in Sicily, Ferlita opened a bakery in Ybor City in 1896. He's also credited with creating a simple sandwich that was both hearty and inexpensive.
click to enlarge Behold the Tampa Cuban sandwich. - PHOTO BY SRL MEDIA
Behold the Tampa Cuban sandwich.
Photo by SRL Media
Columbia Restaurant, which has served Cuban sandwiches in Tampa since 1915, maintains that the sandwich originally called a "mixto" was designed to appeal to the immigrants who worked in Ybor City — with ham for the Spanish, Genoa salami for the Sicilians, roast pork for the Cubans, and Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard for the Jews and Germans. In time, the sandwich became known as a "Cuban" and came to prominence in Miami.

Randazzo came by his passion for the Cuban honestly. His grandmother was in the cigar business, he says, so the family spoke Spanish and Italian. They also loved Tampa Cuban sandwiches, though, not ironically, they're called just Cuban sandwiches there. "My first job was at a place called the Cuban Sandwich Shop on Florida Avenue in Tampa," he tells New Times.

As an adult, Randazzo moved to Boca Raton to work on concept and development for Brewzi's, an Italian restaurant and microbrewery. He now owns the Pizza Solution, a company that makes it easier for restaurants to add pizza to their menus. During COVID, though, he went looking for something to do on weekends.

And so the Tampa Cuban Sandwich Company was born.

When he saw Yellow Green Market was planning to reopen, Randazzo says, "I went to the office eight days before opening and said, 'I have a Cuban sandwich concept.' They wanted it but said I would have to be ready to open in a week."

Randazzo, who sells his sandwich for $12 ($7 for a half-sandwich), also offers flans from Tampa-based Niaddi flan ($5 to $6) and plantain chips from Chiffles, a company that started in Tampa and moved to Miami.

In the future, he'll offer Cuban coffee — Tampa style.

The distinction: "In Tampa, the coffee is percolated, then the milk is heated in the percolator instead of a frother."

Randazzo is aware of the fact that expecting Miami Cubans to endure a few slices of salami on their beloved sandwich is a big ask.

"I'm here to give people the experience of what a Tampa Cuban sandwich is," he says. "That being said, if you don't want salami, I can take it off. Heck, if you don't want pork, I can do that, too. It's your sandwich, after all."

Tampa Cuban Sandwich Company. At the Yellow Green Farmers Market, Space #589; 3080 Sheridan St., Hollywood; 864-692-8226. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss