And the queen of all that hoopla was Michelle Faedo, who easily won two separate competitions for Best Cuban with her magnificent concoction of ingredients stuffed between two slices of La Segunda Central bread.
This was no surprise to me because I personally declared her sandwich the ultimate Cuban back in 2007, when she and husband Robbie were still running their hole-in-wall restaurant at the edge of Ybor City.
Now the two have joined the food truck revolution and operate Faedo's On the Go around town. Last week, Michelle was the honcho of creating the world's largest Cuban at a charity event in Ybor City with a sandwich that measured about 49 feet, which was then donated to the homeless. Later this fall, the Faedos will be in Las Vegas, pitting their sandwich against sandwiches from around the country.
On Saturday, the Faedo's are going to be at the Cruis-A-Cade Club on the Hillsborough River, 700 Ross St., where they will be preparing crab enchilado as a benefit for the Trinity Cafe for the homeless. The cost is $25 in advance and $30 at the door from noon to 5 p.m.
v vAlong the way, I've read stories that suggest crab enchilado originated in Ybor, as well, which I doubt. But it sounds good. I figured I'd better check in with Mrs. Faedo to see what this was all about, now that she is moving up the food chain toward becoming a celebrity chef. I do know that deviled crabs are also said to be Ybor City originals. So far we haven't claimed the Philly cheesesteak.
"I don't know either," she says, "but I do know that when I was a little girl growing up with my grandmother, crab enchilado was something we all ate in East Tampa and Ybor City. Most people caught their own crabs, and it was a cheap and good meal. Times were difficult and blue crabs were everywhere around the bay."
v v"I didn't really know my parents," she says, "and it was my grandmother who taught me everything. She had a tiny sandwich shop on Nebraska Avenue. She never learned how to drive so we would walk everywhere. We would walk down to the Davis Islands bridge where she would take chicken necks and claws and lower them inside a trap with a rope. In those days the bay was full of crabs, and I could lean over and sometimes see the crabs go into the trap."
As a girl, she would huddle underneath the cash register at the lunch shop where her grandmother not only did all the cooking but handled the register and cleaned up at night. "I learned how to work from her," she says.
And she never stopped. "I was actually 10 when I met Robbie. He was helping bring butchered hog meat to our restaurant."
Years later, after the two were married and running a small grocery, they decided to answer requests from customers and begin running a cafe out front. Now their food truck is a moveable feast whose location regulars find on their Facebook page.
On Thursday and Friday, the Faedos spent their time cleaning crabs and simmering the "chilau" sauce. "It's going to be messy," says Michelle. "If you come, and I hope you do, wear old clothes."