There is a joke in my family that regardless of where we take my father to eat, it is never up to his impeccably high standards. We aren’t sure where these standards come from since this is the man that taught me by example that a tuna fish sandwich is not complete without a smattering of BBQ chips in-between two pieces of Merita white bread. He loves pizza, and a perfectly cooked steak; he isn’t what you would call a foodie necessarily. He just knows what he likes, even if what he likes is McDonalds and select sandwiches from Panera Bread.
A loose interpretation of him on his lunch break.
My siblings and I have taken him all over Orlando introducing him to the newest and most raved about restaurants and he is always disappointed. Rarely does a satisfied moan bellow from his mouth or a glimmer of achieved food-induced euphoria appear in his eyes.
He is the Tim Gunn of restaurant outings.
Knowing this, I still invited him and my mother to join Ian and myself for lunch at Black Bean Deli. Being born in Cuba and the recipient of hundreds if not thousands of authentic home cooked Cuban meals by his mother, my Abuela, I knew this was risky. I had to preface our outing over and over again that this wasn't going to be like Abuela’s meals, but still worth the trip. I’d like to think being raised in a half Cuban household I know what semi-decent Cuban food is.
After all this is my mantra.
We arrived around 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon and Black Bean Deli was packed. We arrived just in time to watch a line form out of the front door behind us. I quickly snagged us a table and we didn't wait too long for our meal.
A few bites in my father asked with much irritation in his voice, “Where is the Cuban bread?"
I informed him that meals were not served with Cuban bread and watched as his mustache turned upside down.
He informed me that this establishment could not possibly be run by authentic Cuban people if there is no Cuban bread served.
Just a few fork fulls in and it had begun.
Black Bean Deli does not have traditional wait staff since you order at the counter, but a young girl happened upon our table to refresh our water glasses. My father asked if he could get a piece of Cuban bread for his meal. The girl looked confused and I buried my face in my hands. It took a few times of him asking, almost explaining what bread was, until she replied “Sure”, although the look on her face was anything but. We never saw that girl again.
For the next 5 minutes I was privy to a speech about the importance of Cuban bread, perhaps its origin if my memory serves me correctly. Then came the play by play.
“Guess I’ll never see that girl again!”
“Did she even know what I was asking her?”
“By the time I get my bread there will be nothing left on my plate!”
“ Oh there she is, I guess she forgot about my bread.”
Then came the discussion of what white people think good Cuban food is verse actual Cuban people, which I am sure was delightful for all the white people around us to listen to. Stupid white people want their Cuban food tamed down for their weak palettes!
Viva Cuba!!! Let my taste buds goooooooo!
OK, so it wasn't exactly that dramatic, but it was that hilarious (and pretty true).
Our plates were nearing being clean, and unbeknownst to me my father had ordered a Cuban coffee earlier when he ordered his meal, but had told them to wait to serve it to him because he wanted it after his meal with his pastelle. I told him he would most likely have to get back in line and notify the barista he was ready for his coffee.
Then came the story of little authentic Cuban restaurant in Clermont that literally watches him consume his meal and at the exact moment he takes his last bite, a fresh cup of Cuban coffee is presented to him. I can only imagine how comforting that is while you eat.
I imagine the Cuban National Anthem "La Bayamesa" is most likely played during this process accompanied by wait staff bowing to him.
I watched him go back up to the counter bustling with people and wait for someone to acknowledge him. I don’t think his frown could have turned anymore upside down.
He came back after a few minutes after successfully getting someone to notice him, and rolled his eyes at the amount of effort he had to expend to get something he already paid for. He did however tell me that the food has been adequate, but not without another jab about his missing Cuban bread.
Some time passed and no coffee appeared and no anthems played, so when someone came to clear our plates he did not hesitate to let this kid know what was up. Stories of missing bread and elusive coffee probably haunted his dreams that very night, but to his credit he was extremely personable with my dad and they laughed together.
It looked kind of like this.
Several minutes passed and the kid came back again to another earful because the coffee still had not made it’s way to our table. Again, he promised he would find out what was going on.
My father explained to him that if he had a blog or used Yelp that it would say “OK food, no Cuban bread, terrible service!”
As I laughed and apologized with my eyes, the kid took it all really well and was actually a bright spot for my father. He did encourage him to come back when it wasn't so busy, since Saturday was their busiest day of the week, to which my father scoffed that the true sign of a successful business was how it ran when it was busy. So many lessons learned, so many private tears probably shed.
Full disclosure, the coffee did take an insanely long time to get to him, and when it finally did I was beside myself with nervous anticipation. Having watched my father drink these Cuban coffee’s my whole life, I knew the face of satisfaction. Would I see it? The suspense was killing me. This leisurely lunch had become some sort of stressful sporting event. Cuban vs. Cuban!
He took his first sip and the frown reappeared. It wasn't strong enough, it wasn't sweet enough. It had no kick. My mother, also a Cuban coffee connoisseur, took a sip and made a face of sheer disdain. Yes even this Italian woman knew that this Cuban coffee was not up to snuff. He continued his hateful sips, as a final nail in this establishments coffin.
Have I learned my lesson? Oddly, watching his reactions has become an enjoyable pleasure. This after all, is the man that has taught me so much in life. Why not learn a few more lessons from him while one of us enjoys a meal and the other discusses millenials and their inability to give good service to paying patrons.
Truthfully, he sets a great example of being extremely honest with people, and yet personable and lovable in the process. You can get your point across without being rude, condescending, or stripping someone of their dignity. You can make friends in the midst of being an unsatisfied customer knowing there are truly more important things in life, but good Cuban coffee and good service would be still be nice.