'Best Cuban sandwich' decided in Ybor City
Radio personality Jack Harris walked around the courtyard next to the Ybor City Museum on Saturday with the glazed look of someone who had eaten too much.
That because Harris, host of WFLA (970 AM)'s morning talk show, did eat too much.
“I think I've had my fill of Cuban sandwiches for the next three years,” Harris said.
But it was for a good cause.
Harris was one of about a dozen celebrity judges who chomped through about 20 samples of Tampa's official sandwich at the second annual Cuban Sandwich Festival.
The festival was a chance to give bragging rights to the restaurants making the best traditional and non-traditional Cubans. But it also was a fundraiser for Emberlyn Padilla, an 18-month-old girl who was born without a diaphragm.
“God willing, we will do this for her again next year,” said Victor Padilla, the little girl's grandfather.
Her father, Solomon Padilla, wasn't around this year for the festivities.
“He is in Afghanistan right now,” said Victor Padilla. “He's helping bringing everything back home.”
Shortly before the contest began, Michelle Faedo was working up a sweat in her food truck.
“This is our traditional sandwich,” she said of the concoction featuring ham, salami, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickle on Cuban bread.
She slathered a homemade herb-garlic butter on the tops of the sandwiches, then squeezed the Cubans in a heated press, placing a red condiment box on the press for added weight.
“We make them nice and crunchy,” said Faedo, owner of Michelle Faedo's On The Go. Faedo and her husband, Robert, have been in the Cuban sandwich business for 17 years.
Tampa city Councilman Harry Cohen said politics made him an ideal judge.
The politics of Cuban sandwiches.
“I am one of seven people who weighed in on what makes a Cuban sandwich authentic,” said Cohen, who represents South Tampa. “So I listened to all the discussions.
To Cohen, a judge in the non-traditional sandwich category, it comes down to the pickle.
“I like it half sour,” he said. “And not a dill.”
Gayle Guyardo, a host on WFLA television's morning show, said her guide as a judge was her grandmother, Katie Guagliardo, who made them when she was a girl growing up in Tampa.
“I like them old-school,” Guyardo said. “The Cuban sandwich has evolved over the years. Some of them are made with Penne bread.”
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor also is a devotee of the traditional Cuban.
“You have to have the correct portion of meat,” she said. “Mustard, no mayonnaise; grilled; pressed. There's a bunch of fabulous sandwiches here today.”
As the judging went on, Tampa Tribune columnist Steve Otto, the contest's “Cuban sandwich czar,” considered his favorites.
“There are a lot of good choices here,” said Otto, who was judging both traditional and non-traditional, a category that included one deep-fried sandwich and another one made into an empanada.
“The Tampa Cuban is a representation of the history of Tampa, with a mixture of German, Italian and Spanish,” said Tampa Tribune food critic Jeff Houck, also a judge.
The judges weren't the only ones weighing in on the sandwiches.
Some of the contestants had food trucks set up for the weekly market in Centennial Park, which attracted thousands of people.
“I love Cuban sandwiches,” said Arita Brody, 62, a retired teacher. “I came all the way from Dayton, Tenn., to get one. We don't have too many places in Tennessee that sell Cuban sandwiches.”
When all the judges' tallies were in, Faedo, who won last year, won again. In both categories.
The five-day exhibition at the Florida State Fairgrounds expects to draw more than seniors and retirees.