Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.
In suburban Tampa, where I grew up, there’s a family-run Cuban restaurant in just about every shopping center. It didn’t take long for my family, re-los from North Carolina, to get hooked on this cuisine. The food was always bursting with flavor, the prices low and the portions generous.
Perhaps that’s why I like Cafe Caribe so much. This new restaurant opened about a month ago on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth. They’re a lot like the Cuban restaurants I remember from my childhood. The restaurant is simple, unpretentious and the food remains true to the traditions of Cuban cuisine found in south Florida.
Papas rellenas stand out on their appetizer menu. These mashed potato balls are filled with beef, breaded and fried. They are perfectly cooked to a golden brown color and offer a nice contrast in texture. A dipping sauce unfortunately was missing and would have complemented these well. You also can’t go wrong ordering their ham croquettes. Delicious.
Caribe’s picadillo stood out. It’s ground beef chunks braised with olives and raisins. The flavor is complex with some sweetness from the raisins.
If there’s one thing Cuban chefs can do it’s roast pork. Cafe Caribe’s take on Lechon Asado is spot on and will keep me coming back for more. They roast pork shoulder and serve it sliced, not pulled. Prior to serving the slices hit the griddle for a quick sear. On the plate it looks like a pork chop, but it’s so much better. The meat, delicately tender under the caramelized sear, easily yields to gentle pressure from a fork. Complemented with onions and a garlic mojo sauce, it is delectable. Pair it up with some robustly-flavored black beans with yellow rice and you’ve got a stick-to-your-ribs meal.
A few items can be a tad on the greasy side. Arroz con pollo, served with a large leg-thigh quarter, leaves a good bit of fat on the rice. My wife didn’t enjoy this entree. Ropa Vieja, braised flank steak served shredded, is also a tad greasy yet still flavorful.
Cuban sandwiches are made the traditional way and with their own roast pork. Also on the menu is media noche or midnight sandwich. This Cuban sandwich variety is popular in Miami and features a sweet bread. It’s certainly not something you’re likely to find elsewhere around here.
Lunch specials come with rice, black beans and maduros (plantains). Lachon Asado is available as a lunch special and the portion is enormous. Small appetites could make two meals out of it. And priced at only $7, I felt like I was stealing this meal.
There’s enough left on Cafe Caribe’s menu to keep me exploring. The sandwich list is vast. I also see paella. Maybe I’ll give it a try if I can pull myself away from the roast pork.
Cafe Caribe is a winner, a welcomed addition to Peachtree Parkway’s blossoming new restaurant scene. Their kitchen is cranking out some seriously good Cuban eats. Just show the front of the house some patience as they work out the new restaurant kinks.