Gary Smith · Oct 18, 2016 · 3 min read
Ooops, they did it again.
They being George and Debbie Sayegh, owners of that rustic, groovy little cubbyhole at 1120 Central known as Bodega.
You know the Joint. Across the street from Green Bench Brewers. A three-wood over 1st Avenue South bouncing along the parking lot to the Trop from their back yard.
Jammed into a tiny space with little metal tables and plastic chairs, you can sit next to Central or head to the quiet, shady and back kinda Grotto area.
Heck, you can get your order to go and have fresh brewed bev at Green Bench for that matter.
They won Creative Loafing's Best Cuban Shop in Food and Drink again. Second year in a row.
Their Cuban rocks the world, with crunchy, hot pressed Cuban bread, thick roasted pork slabs with ham and sharp Swiss cheese and pickles.
Savory, big enough to split with a friend with a side of Sweet and Spicy Jicama Slaw and a chilled Chelada (Modelo Especial Mexican Beer over ice with a salted rim and fresh lime).
That crunchy Jicama Slaw brings some pleasant heat, a nice bite of red onion and a bit of cuke and cilantro. It is special. Great break from the meaty richness of the sandwich.
Funny thing is, neither George nor Debbie are Cuban. They did own a Cuban coffee shop in Brooklyn.
She's of Greek heritage.
George, (Sayegh is Lebanese), was formally trained in French Culinary Arts in New York. He went on to study in France for a year, worked the glitzy New York circuit, then South Beach and now has worked out of this tadpole sized kitchen on Central Ave for 3 1/2 years.
'We're roasting pork all day and night in that kitchen,' said Debbie recently.
'We're Latin inspired American, but don't just come here for the Cuban,' she said. 'Even though people from all over travel to St Pete to try it. We're very into vegetarian and vegan dishes as well. Be adventurous when you come here. We're super healthy.'
Hence, the Tempeh. 'I'm a carnivore, but since I tasted Tempeh, I've added a new, low fat protein to my diet', she said. 'I had one of our Tempeh sandwiches for lunch today.'
Tempeh is the other Tofu. It's fermented with a mold and comes out in flat rectangular pieces about eight inches long. Firm and chewy, George bakes it then spices it and pan sears it until it's crispy and, well, surprisingly good.
'I'd never tried it until this guy, Artie from Gainesville, who makes it and services Rollin' Oats dropped some off for us to sample.'
'We sell a ton of it,' said Debbie.
Bodega has several vegetarian offerings, including a tofu, avacado and jicama sandwich and a veggie platter featuring Mojo grilled Tofu.
The Lechon, a slow roasted Mojo Pork with grilled onions is deep and unctuous, no knife required.
I have to say the Pollo Asado, a Coconut marinated chicken breast with mango mayo and avocados, well, didn't have the juice and flavor bite of the Tempeh or pork. Spice that bite up!
The black beans are a bit uninspired and Debbie told me why. Unlike most recipes for the Cuban staple, they add no pork or fat to their beans. I added some hot sauce and onions and liked the heck out of them.
Bodega, which actually means Spanish groceria or wine house, has an excellent selection of Cuban coffee options, makes smoothies, herb seltzers, fresh squeezed fruit juices, and serves wine and beer. Catering is also an option.
It's a casual walk-up and order through a big wide window, grab a seat and wait for some server to start calling out your name kind of place. Beans, rice, pork, chicken, chopped Romaine Salad, or Tempeh.
Something for everybody.
But if you haven't..........get the Cuban.
(Photos by Barry Lively)
One of the best little hole in the wall Latin Street food and Cuban sandwiches in the Tampa Bay area.