new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Carmines Tampa: Smushed Sandwiches, Evil Crab

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Carmines Tampa: Smushed Sandwiches, Evil Crab

Carmines Seventh Avenue
1802 E 7th Ave
Tampa, FL 33605
(813) 248-3834

Ybor City is the requisite old-town section of Tampa, full of old fashioned Cuban flavor, cigar shops, and drug addicts in silly clothing. It's also an excellent place to go if you're interested in eating some decent Cuban food, even if it is interpreted through a tourist-centric eye.

Carmine's is rather prettified by my standards (and Jesus Christ, the menus are laminated) but the wide open warehouse space the restaurant sits in is certainly inviting. We all began with a millky and extremely potent cafe con leche ($2.95), which had a delicious caramelized flavor and enough caffeine to make me a happy puppy for the rest of the evening. You can, of course, also order booze.

Beverages aside, I quickly decided on the Cuban sandwich, with the devil crab to start.

The Cuban sandwich ($6.99), fair mistress of Tampa cuisine, is Carmine's bread and butter, and it does my Floridian heart good to see the rows of unpressed Cubans aligned along the counter here, ready to be slathered with butter and smushed under a hot iron for a bit. The Cuban came out fairly quickly, and although I was somewhat nonplussed by the inclusion of (gasp) lettuce and tomato, the sandwich worked well, with the requisite crunchy Cuban bread and plenty of delicious, delicious mayonnaise. Only critique: it wasn't pressed flat enough to my liking, and fell apart just about as I was finishing it up. The Cuban Sandwich Guy up front should be leaning on that iron more.

The devil crab ($4.79 for one) was also tasty, a football shaped mass of crab meat mixed with spices, deep fried into a croquette-like form. The giant egg of crab-meat deflated slightly when pierced with a fork, and although I found the bready coating mostly extraneous, I enjoyed the crab-meat rich and flavorful inside (though it could have been more spicy.) In the future, I'll step on it with some hot sauce.

Around the rest of my table, the black beans and rice were proclaimed a worthy carbohydrate fest, though you're a fool if you don't add hot sauce in ample quantities. My cousin's fried grouper sandwich ($9.99) was absolutely monstrous and he proclaimed it delicious, though from the size of it one might conclude he had just downed the Mother Matriarch of the entire grouper species.

Service was fairly quick and certainly efficient, although the Cubans and rice took a little longer then we might have ideally preferred. People watching on the street is pretty darn good though, ranging from old timer Floridians with sun-beaten skin and cigars, to waddling and confused looking tourists in palm tree hats. What can I say, I love small controlled doses.

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