BY S.J. GINTZLER | FOR THE STAR-LEDGER
It’s all in the family at Cafe Havana, an engaging Cuban eatery in Middlesex. Chef-owners Miguel and Rita Sanchez serve pollo asado (roast chicken), masas de puerco (crisp seasoned pork chunks) and frijoles negros (black bean soup), based on relatives’ recipes.
Open 18 months, Cafe Havana is housed in a refurbished white stucco structure decorated with painted palm trees. A lengthy bar (open until 2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays) and two dining rooms comprise the interior. The main room is brightened by a Caribbean mural and family photos. A band entertains one Saturday night a month. There are Latin dance lessons on Thursday nights.
Well prepared home- style Cuban. A loaf of crusty pressed garlic bread was served. Mojitos ($5.50) were a refreshing balance of rum, lime juice, sugar cane juice, splash of soda and ground mint leaves, shaken with ice.
Appetizers were excellent. A special seafood soup ($4.95) was a soul-satisfying brew of shellfish and vegetables in a sofrito- sparked broth (sofrito is a Latin American sauce of slow-cooked onion, peppers and garlic). Juicy mango and pineapple over greens ($4.50) made an invigorating salad. Bonitas rellenos ($6.95), a hearty helping of sweet potatoes filled with ground beef in a robust sofrito sauce, was a meal in itself. We’ve never had a better ceviche ($7.95)—tangy tilapia “cooked” in lime juice, strewn with chopped tomato, green and red peppers, red onion and cilantro.
Entrees kept up the tasty pace. Baked tilapia ($19.95, a special) was complemented by a chilled, slightly spicy corn and pepper salsa. A savory enchilado de camarones ($14.95) had medium shrimp swimming in a thick sauce of tomato, green and red pepper, onion, garlic, shrimp stock and seasonings. Picadillo a la Criolla ($12.95), a plate piled with ground beef punctuated with potatoes and green olives, wasn’t visually interesting, but tasted great. White rice accompanied the entrees.
A sandwich Cubano ($6.75) was exemplary: sliced, slow- roasted pork, sweet ham, Swiss cheese and pickles layered and pressed on mustard-smeared Cuban bread and accompanied by mariquitas (deep-fried green plantain slices).
Also on the menu: garlic shrimp-stuffed green plantains ($7.95, a special), lechon asado (roast pork, $12.95), rabo encen dido (oxtail braised in red wine, $14.95), ropa vieja (shredded beef stew, $13.95).
Dinner ended on a high note with a fine flan, tres leches (white cake drenched with sweetened condensed milk) and cups of creamy cafe con leche.
Dinner at Cafe Havana was an all-around delight. If you love Cuban cooking, make a reservation now.
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