Key West Florida is but 90 miles from Cuba. Cubans have immigrated to Florida for many years to seek improved economic and social conditions. Some came in the 1890's to work in Ybor City’s cigar factories. In 1905, Casimiro Hernandez, opened a soup, sandwich and coffee shop. It was a popular stop for cigar plant worker to buy Cuban sandwiches, just like back home in Cuba, for their lunches. The family still operates the Columbia Restaurants and you can still get your own authentic Cuban sandwich. The Cuban community is fastidious about their sandwiches and animated discussions arise when the subject of the proper Cuban sandwich is broached. Miami versions still closely follow the original. Some Tampa area sandwiches add Genoa salami and reflect the large Italian immigration into the Tampa area.
The Cuban bread, a long rustic loaf, is made with lard and has a crisp and flaky crust. Some will argue that you cannot make a Cuban sandwich without the traditional Cuabn bread. The traditional, distinctive design on the bread is from a frond laid across the loaves after rising.
The “plancha,” a weighted grill that flattens and toasts the bread is another unique feature of the Cuban sandwich. You can use a cast iron skillet weighted with a brick, a waffle iron with flat plates, a George Foreman grill or my favorite, a Cuisinart Griddler, to make your sandwich.