Mortar & Pestle: Coffee, Food, Alcohol? Sounds Like a Good Time!

There are a lot of opinions about this restaurant. Lets see what the Exploring Tampa crew thinks!
Mortar & Pestle, 2019
Coming from the ashes of a popular food truck, Mortar & Pestle is a concept that thrives to bring back the old timey pharmacies. You know the ones... You go to get a soda from the fountain, you wander the aisles, make your way to the lunch counter, then leave with your prescriptions. Located on the same block as local favorites Angry Chair Brewing and Trip's Diner, there's no lack of business to be had. This is also one of the few places in Seminole Heights with a real parking lot. Had you never read a review of this place and had you not heard about their filing for bankruptcy, you'd be impressed. The inside of the building is a hipster's paradise, with the industrial looking tables and chairs, the high ceiling, the steampunk-esque inspired decor. The inside of this building is cool. Next door is also a fully functional pharmacy that I wasn…

Cuban Sandwich Festival: Tampa Pride

When you come to Ybor City, you think of one thing.

Ybor City Chicken, 2018

No, not the chickens...

Angelo's Deli & Cafe, 2018

Yes, we're talking about the Cuban Sandwich. The sandwich that defines the city of Tampa. But, before I even talk about the festival, lets dispel some rumors about this sandwich. 

"But Mark, the Cuban Sandwich was invented IN Cuba!"

No. No it was not. The sandwiches made in Cuba were called "Sandwiches" in the same way that the sandwiches you make aren't called "American Sandwiches," in the same way that the sandwiches made in Italy aren't called "Italian Sandwiches." Cubans did have a sandwich called a Mixto. A mixto essentially meant that there were mixed meats on their sandwich. Pork and ham were two prominent ingredients, but a mixto never had a true recipe. It is believed to have led to the Cuban Sandwich.

"But Mark, the Cuban was invented IN Miami."

Look, Ybor City was founded close to a decade before Miami. Despite that, Cubans built Ybor in the 1880's while Miami didn't get an influx of Cubans until Fidel Castro took over Cuba. The idea that Miami has an "authentic" Cuban is just straight up wrong. 

"Ok, but, Key West..."

Ok, look: Yes, Ybor and his workers settled in Key West before Tampa, however, the trains didn't go that far south. The Italians and the Germans hadn't had a chance to make their way down there to introduce certain ingredients. The Italians brought the salami (and the name "Cuban Sandwich") while the Germans brought the Swiss Cheese. So, if you're going to tell me that a Cuban doesn't have salami because salami "isn't Cuban," then you better explain to me why it has Swiss Cheese.

"But you have lettuce and tomato on your Cuban."

Sorry guys. Doctor has been complaining that I don't get enough veggies. This is my compromise. 

With that said...

Crowd, 2018

The Cuban Sandwich Festival brings out thousands every year where we celebrate Tampa's Latin population. While the name of the game is Cuban, there were food trucks and restaurants representing all of the Spanish speaking islands. The one thing that I did notice this year was that there seemed to be a lot less participation from restaurants from last year. I know a few claimed that Easter played a role in their decision to not participate, but it was still a downer. While we celebrate every big holiday here in Tampa, I wish we could add the Cuban Sandwich Fest next to Gasparilla as the second biggest local holiday in the area. If you haven't yet gone to the Cuban Sandwich Festival, clear your calendar for next year! There is a ton of Cuban food with a ton of Cuban music with a ton of Cuban people teaching gringos like me how to do Cuban dancing. Best part of the experience is that it is family friendly.

Food Makes Everyone Happy, 2018

Don't let the name fool you: There are Cuban Sandwiches, but there's also meat on a stick, paella, piaya, plantains, tostones, you get the idea. There is a ton of food available. So, if you're one of those people who doesn't like Cuban Sandwiches (what's wrong with you?), there are other options. I will say, however, that if you're vegetarian or vegan, this event offers little if anything for you. The one thing you need to prepare for before coming out is just how long the lines actually are. Yes, they get backed up. Yes, you will be waiting. Don't show up starving or you'll have a bad time. Do try, however, to eat smaller portions so that you can try multiple places. I kind of envy the judges... (What's up Walter?)

Cuban Band, 2018

"This sounds awesome! How much does it cost?" I hear you shouting at your screen. That's the best part! The event is free! Free entry, free entertainment, freebies given at certain booths, just bring some cash to buy some food and drinks (and pay for parking... This is Ybor). This event does take place at Hillsborough Community College - Ybor City, however, so this means that they can't serve alcohol. If you look beyond that, you'll find some really interesting drinks made by local vendors. I saw mango juice, icees, and a few other cups with various concoctions going around. There is no shortage of food and drink options. There are, however, a lot of interesting vendors (T-Mobile, Ferrari, Geico, just to name a few). 

Cuban Sandwich, 2018

"Is it really all positive?" For the most part. The food is good, the atmosphere is good, but there are some things that could be improved. First and foremost, they use a port-o-potty set up. It wouldn't have bothered me as badly if the sinks were also working. Unfortunately I had to hunt down some hand sanitizer. While I do love seeing this many people out having fun, smiling, and enjoying this city, it does make for some pretty epic lines. There is no real solution to this outside of adding more restaurants, which will happen with time I'm sure. The lack of alcohol is also a bit of a letdown. Cubans are known for their rum drinks and it kind of sucks that this festival can't serve any of them. I'm hoping that they one day move this event to a venue that isn't as limiting. 

Hungry?, 2018

"Ok, what do we need to take away from this article?"

- This event gets busy. It's not easy to walk around, so prepare to be patient. Cuban Sandwiches are always worth it.
- Some restaurants will take cards, but others wont. Carry cash just to be safe.
- There are a lot of restaurants. Try to keep your portions smaller so that you can enjoy a few of them.
- Yes, you can dance if you want to.

Which restaurant had your favorite Cuban Sandwich? Did you partake in the dancing lessons? Leave a comment below. If you'd like more information on Tampa, check out our YouTube Channel and if you'd like to support my efforts, don't hesitate to buy a shirt from our Spreadshirt or become a donor at our Patreon.. Also, don't be afraid to click subscribe and you'll instantly be notified whenever a new entry is posted. Thank you all and I will see you next time!

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