By Jason Geary | staff writer | TCpalm.com
From a new deli, the grill is sizzling and sputtering and the smell of grilled onions and pork is in the air
FORT PIERCE—Emilio Palomino doesn’t care if his employees look at him funny.
When forced to discard a piece of his freshly baked bread, Palomino, the new operator of the Sandwich Market & Deli, must first show a small sign of respect.
“I never throw away a piece of bread without giving it a little kiss,” he said.
It’s a tradition, he says, within his Cuban family that was passed to him from his mother, Migdalia.
His mother has passed on more than just this thankful outlook on receiving his daily bread. She recently purchased the downtown restaurant on North Second Street, for about $30,000, and it’s fast becoming a family-operated venture with a cuisine suited to Cuban and Spanish tastes.
Since early July, Emilio Palomino has managed the daily operations for his 73-year-old mother, who despite ill health remains the boss and takes time to inspect the business when she can.
His daughters, Candice, 11, and Erica, 10, sometimes help out with working the cash register and taking telephone calls. His older brother, Ernest, helps clean up after hours.
On Tuesday around noon, the restaurant’s tiny interior was packed with nearly 20 customers.
Terence and Amie Rosario, both 25, were pondering if they should attempt to try a dessert. They found a coupon for the restaurant and decided to give something different a try.
“You kind of get into a rut of the regular places,” Amie Rosario said.
Terence Rosario said he wished that he had ordered the cheese steak sandwich that his wife was eating, but said he was satisfied with his lunch special of pork, rice, beans and plantains.
“Dang, you get so much food that you have to choke it down,” he said.
Chef Ricky Maestre, 43, said the signature dish is the “Cuban mix” sandwich, which includes roast pork shoulder, ham, grilled onions, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and a little something known as “jungle juice.”
“It’s a magical sauce, something that we make here,” Maestre said with a laugh.
But the real draw are the large loaves of bread that are pulled from the oven hot and plump each morning and used in almost every dish and sandwich.
The family’s recipes come from a cooking heritage originating from Cuba. Emilio Palomino said his family left the country shortly after he was born.
His father and mother had extensive holdings in the country, including several farms, pharmacies, and a grocery store, but they fled when Fidel Castro came to power, he said.
“They came over here with not much in their pockets, maybe $10,” Emilio Palomino said.
The couple came to Key West, where they both took up multiple jobs to support the family. After high school, Emilio Palomino took his family’s cooking skills to jobs at a few Miami Subs Grill restaurants. He also ran another Cuban style cafe, called La Curva, in Key West that his mother established.
Emilio Palomino said he had a great childhood filled with basketball, fishing and swimming, but he had to get away from the festive atmosphere of the Keys when his daughters were born.
“It was time to calm down, get over it all,” he said.
“That’s a party town. That’s not where you want two girls to grow up.”
For 10 years, he has owned Hot Cut’s, a hair salon and wireless telecommunication store in Lakewood Park, but has again longed for the fast-paced environment of a little restaurant. That’s when he heard that the sandwich shop was up for sale.
There are nine eateries within the city’s downtown, including Cafe Le Ronde, Pig & Whistle Pub, Brewer’s Cafe, Gately’s Grill, Max & Meg’s and the Backus Studio & Cafe. The Manatiki and the Tiki Bar and Restaurant both overlook the waterfront.
Kathy Wheatley, treasurer of the Downtown Business Association, said there should be enough hungry patrons to go around with plenty of employees from nearby offices to serve as regular clients.
Wheatley said she was glad that the Sandwich Shop will have consistent hours: Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The sandwich shop’s previous owners had begun to vary the operating times, she said.
On Saturday mornings, the Sandwich Market will be the only eatery open—with the exception of the Backus Studio & Cafe, which opens at 10 a.m.