2011-02-02 / Restaurant of the Week

HAVANA EXPRESS CAFE & BAKERY

w elcome to Havana Express Café and Bakery, the first Cuban café in Astoria and unquestionably, “The home of the original Cuban sandwich”. Havana Express Café and Bakery opened about a year and a half ago by Carlos Lopez who was born in Cuba and raised in Astoria. He literally built the place (formerly Astoria Bakery) with his own hands and takes great pride in his eatery. The sunny yellow and green interior features tiled floors, potted palms and photos of Ricky Riccardo and “I Love Lucy” on the walls. There are retro red and chrome diner stools at the coffee bar as well as several neat and tidy tables for dining in. Free wi-fi is available so you can work, study or surf while you eat.

Sparkling clean glass cases boast dozens of delectable cakes, pastries, cookies and puddings that have made Havana Express famous in both the retail and wholesale business. In fact, many restaurants, hotels and caterers purchase their desserts from Havana Express. You can place your order for any specialty cake you’d like for that special birthday, anniversary, shower, wedding or other occasion. Pretty platters of cookies and mini pastries are a big hit as well so visit their Web site for some delicious ideas.

“Cookie” the chef starts at 6:00am and cooks up a storm each day including all your favorite breakfast and lunch items. Breakfast starts with fresh eggs cooked any style and piled onto fluffy bakery rolls with bacon, ham, cheese or sausage. They’re easy to take with you, as the N train is just up the street. The bakery’s croissants, sweet rolls and apple or guava turnovers are irresistible, especially with Carlos’ specially brewed coffee. Carlos learned a lot about coffee beans from his grandfather, who owned a plantation. He personally selects his own beans and grinds them in the café for the best cup you can get. Enjoy it Cuban style with sweet milk, or any way you like.

The lunch line starts forming around noon when ConEd workers file in for their famous sandwiches,

led by, of course, the original Cuban. Tender roasted pork is layered onto fresh crusty Italian bread along with ham, Swiss cheese and sliced pickles. The sandwich is then pressed on a grill to melt the cheese and meld all the savory flavors together, lightly toasting the bread, which is then cut into easy-to-eat triangles. This sandwich is delicious and everyone ought to try this classic ($6.50), that can also be ordered with a nice side salad for a couple of bucks more. But wait, there’s more. Choose your favorite sandwich among roasted pork, made in house each day, roast beef, pastrami, corned beef, roasted turkey, Philly cheese steak, classic BLT and more. Wash it all down with popular Cuban sodas, now made in the U.S. “Iron Beer” is an

extra bubbly type of root beer. Jupina is a pineapple orange drink and Materva is made from an ancient root. They’re all sweet, cool and refreshing and go well with those awesome sandwiches.

On the bakery side of things, delicate, savory pastries called “pastelitos” and “empanadas” are filled with beef or chicken and make a great snack or appetizer. My friend and I devoured Brazilian style croquettes made with flaky baccalao and cooked until golden brown. On the sweet side, you’ll see dozens of cannolis, Napoleons, éclairs, whimsical cupcakes, flaky elephant ears, Lucy puffs and fudgy brownies. Strawberry shortcake with cream on top, chocolate mousse cake, cheesecakes, red velvet cake and more defy you to decide. I love the cool creaminess of their Cuban style flan and rich bread pudding too.

On your way home, stop in for a loaf of fresh bread such as a baguette (plain or whole wheat), Italian, semolina, round semolina, seeded, whole wheat or plain rolls and other varieties. Bring some sweets for your family too and you’ll be a hero.

Havana Express Café and Bakery is a clean, neighborhood place where you’ll be greeted warmly and served fresh, delicious food, tantalizing cakes, cookies and pastries and exceptionally good coffee. Visit the first Cuban café in Astoria and enjoy some of the typical cuisine of that sunny island. Buen provecho!

21-37 31st Street, Astoria

718.545.9344 www.havanaexpresscafe.com

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