In Canada, it’s hard to think of one food item that’s gone through more disgrace than the Cubano — the Cuban sandwich.
I have been to many places across this country, and have been subjected to many disappointing iterations of the Cubano. In fact, for someone who hasn’t experienced how great the Cubano can be, it wouldn’t be strange to (wrongfully) think of the Cubano as a glorified ham and mustard sandwiches. Really, trouncing this sandwich classic is a crime that has been committed by so many Canadian kitchens, that you’d think it was us and not the Americans who imposed travel bans on that Caribbean island nation.
The new Old Strathcona sandwich spot is the newest addition on the block to the family that also includes The Next Act, Meat and Pop. And yes, it has a Cubano on the menu. On first inspection, it looks right — torpedo bun, pickles, mustard, provolone cheese, ham and roasted pork. So I order it, talking myself out of the pastrami on rye.
The windows at Pals offer a picture-perfect view of Old Strathcona, from the Arts Barns to the Varscona Theatre. The Stones are playing non-stop over the sound system, which is pretty damn good. No one can guarantee that Pals will have the Stones on when you arrive, but it definitely helped along my enjoyment of said afternoon.
And then the sandwich arrives. By the way, I ordered the side of the house soup, and I’ll start there.
The house soup is a potato puree with lots of dill and peppercorns. It’s got a nice kick from the pepper, and a big push of sour. I mean, it’s lip-smacking good. It kinda reminds me of Polish-style pickle soup, but with an added heat component. It’s definitely worth a try as your side.
And now, to the star of the show, the sandwich itself. Really, the thing that most people screw up is the roast pork — but, in the case of Pals, it is smoky and the star of the show. The cheese is nicely melted and there’s plenty of pickles to add the needed sour element to offset all richness from the pork. It’s super well-balanced. And, wait, did Pals actually do it right? Damn straight.