BITE-SIZED

Havana DAYDREAMIN'

Nassau County café offers real fare from La Isla Grande

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A small spot in downtown Fernandina, Hola! Cuban Café is a comfy place to nurse a coffee or grab a quick sandwich. It’s got plenty of outdoor seating, and if you’re lucky, you may be sitting next to a cute pup or two.

Hola! Cuban Café features empanadas. If you don’t like empanadas, we might not be able to be friends. It’s just a portable version of your tastiest meal. The empanadas at Hola Cuban are the most traditional kind, so it’s a good place to start for you newbies. You have several tasty options from which to choose, like guava and cheese, and meat pies. Make sure you ask about specials; they usually have something up their sleeve. My favorite is the Breakfast Empanada ($3.25). It’s stuffed to the brim with scrambled eggs, ham and Swiss cheese. A nice plus about Hola Cuban’s empanadas? Order just two of the tasty Latin turnovers and ¡ahí está! a full meal, breakfast or lunch.

If you’re more of a sandwich lover, you can’t go wrong with the classics. Hola Cuban has several typical pressed Cuban sandwiches like Media Noche (the Midnight) ($7.50) and The Cuban ($7.50), which is just what you’d expect from a place called Hola! Cuban. Order one and you get a piping-hot traditional Cuban sandwich, with tavern ham, slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread–it’s just like the sandwiches I grew up on in Miami. The filling is spread in between slices of fresh Cuban bread, with that specific crisp crust that can only come from the griddle. You may have to reach for the roll of paper towels on the middle of the table, since the sandwich is jam-packed. The cheese, yellow mustard, shredded pork and ham make each healthy bite a party in your mouth. The Media Noche is aptly named because it was a common meal for workers on the late-night shift and is quite similar to The Cuban, with the same filling, but a slightly sweeter bread.

Speaking of sweets, don’t forget dessert. Choose from creamy Flan ($3.75) smothered in a caramelized sugar sauce or Tres Leches ($3.75), which translates to three milk and does, in fact, feature three kinds of milk: condensed, evaporated and heavy cream. It tastes like vanilla cake with melted ice cream. Or you may choose a hot, cinnamon-sugared, freshly fried Churro ($3).

Now try a traditional Cuban soda like Pineapple Jupiña ($1.25) to really feel transported to the newly opened island. Pronounced hoo-pen-yah, it’s one of the most colorful cans of soda I’ve ever seen. With bright oranges, yellows and greens on its pineapple-y exterior, I couldn’t stop staring. It tasted muy bien, too, almost like a cream soda with a pineapple finish. 

Don’t forget to sip authentic Cuban coffee while you’re there. The thick, rich brew is the perfect pick-me-up; Hola’s strong brews are served hot or iced.

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