September is coming to a close (what?!), but we can’t let Hispanic Heritage Month go by without talking about one of our favorite topics – food! In part two of our HHM post, we head to Calle Ocho, into the heart of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood for a walking tour of local eats.
Ball & Chain Mojitos
The Calle Ocho Walk of Fame
This walking tour typically starts in one of the local art galleries, but we were a little short on time after too much fun at Havana Classic Cigars (see former BLOG POST), so our guide Mirka took us right to our first food stop. Enter, EL PUB RESTAURANT, a family-owned establishment which has been in the area since the explosion of Cuban culture in South Florida in the 1980’s. Waiting for us was an afternoon café colada and another Cuban favorite, the media noche. Pork, ham, mustard, cheese and dill pickles toasted on a sweet egg dough – is your mouth watering yet? Ours were! While we ate, Mirka gave us the history of the sandwich, just the start of the many fun facts she would share throughout the day.
After we finished our first course, we were on our way down the street to the CUBA TOBACCO CIGAR Factory. Sitting outside, as he is nearly every day, was Señor Bello, the shop’s patriarch and a celebrity on the street. A few photos later, we continued on to EL EXQUISITO RESTAURANT, where waiting for us at the walk up window was course #2, freshly made empanadas. The dough of the empanada can be filled with nearly anything, but we went with the traditional seasoned meat version. It didn’t disappoint!
The Pineapple Stage at Ball & Chain
All of that eating had gotten us thirsty, so we crossed the street to BALL & CHAIN, a jazz mecca of Little Havana in the 80’s that was re-introduced in early 2015 and has seen a successful resurgence in popularity. It wasn’t hard to see why. The venue is set off by a huge pineapple stage in the back courtyard, where of course it was time for more photos. But the real reason for our stop were the mojitos! The concoction of muddled mint and white rum was the perfect thirst quencher, and we enjoyed our cocktails while listening to a very talented live Latin jazz band.
We could have stayed at Ball & Chain all day, but Mirka had much more to show us, starting back across the street at Domino Park. The park is constantly filled with mostly older generation, Cuban-American players as well as voyeurs like us who come to watch the surprisingly intense action. From there, it was back on the sidewalks for the sweet portion of the tour starting at Giselle’s Bakery. Holaaaa guava pastelito! The flaky crust and guava filling of this Cuban pastry was certainly a crowd favorite! Down the way, the open air farmers market, Los Pinarenos Fruteria y Floreria provided us with fresh guarapo or sugar cane juice, which we sipped while perusing the many local fruits, some familiar like the papaya and some new like the soursop aka, guanabana.
Entrance to Domino Park
This was the last story that Mirka shared, and as she departed, leaving us to finish our ice cream, we couldn’t believe what a day we had or how full we were! The Little Havana experience, both cigar rolling and our walking food tour, was such a great way to celebrate the Hispanic Heritage that is all around us here in South Florida. With tourism travel to Cuba expected to open in the coming months, a day in Miami is your perfect introduction course to a country and culture so rich in flavors and colors!
For information on how to book a Heritage Tour for your corporate group, contact Koncept Events at 1.844.390.0898.
By that point, we had ended up several blocks from our starting point and it was time to circle back for our final stop, AZUCAR ICE CREAM COMPANY. This ice cream shop is truly a destination of its own for any trip into Little Havana. There are classics like Mint Chocolate Chip and classics with a twist like The Elvis (peanut butter and banana), but it’s best to get a little adventurous when you walk through the doors. The seasonal Sweet Potato Ancho Chile Chocolate Chip, anyone? Of course, we can’t neglect to mention the trademarked Abuela Maria (guava and cream cheese) or the Mantecado, a classic Cuban vanilla flavor laced with nutmeg and cinnamon that the owner Suzy Batlle tested at Domino Park ten times until she was given approvals from the players that indeed, that was how it tasted in Cuba in the 1950s.