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Cafe Marianao.......Secret to Quick Service

Cafe Marianao.......Secret to Quick Service
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  • Cafe Marianao.......Secret to Quick Service

    Post #1 - October 12th, 2004, 10:21 am
    Post #1 - October 12th, 2004, 10:21 am Post #1 - October 12th, 2004, 10:21 am

    Cafe Marianao is known for a few things, excellent Cuban and steak sandwiches, very good cafe con leche and a disorganized ordering system. If one can call the way customers place orders a system.

    It's a small, busy place with a 10-ft long counter that has no set area for placing orders, customers, often 4-deep, politely wait, often up 15-minutes, to get up to the counter and then try to gain the attention of of one of the cook/cashiers in the back. Though I've noticed if one simply wants coffee you can get that fairly quickly from the fellow on the left side of the counter, facing front.

    There's no pecking order, it makes no difference if you speak Spanish, are a group of tough looking bikers in full leather, Chicago cop, mother with baby, grandmother, though I have noticed the very old get slightly preferential treatment, everyone waits, sometimes seemingly endlessly.

    There is one exception, beautiful women, not good looking, not really pretty, but heart stopping gorgeous, shine with the radiance movie stars strive for, drop dead gorgeous. Yep, male chauvinism is alive and well at Cafeteria Marianao. ;)

    I was in Marianao lunch time Thursday, they seemed to be short handed, unusual for them, and it took me 20-minutes to get my Cuban sandwich, though one bite and it was worth the wait, and people were getting slightly annoyed, one or two even walked out. Which I had never seen before.

    At the height of lunch rush, where everyone was resigned to patiently wait, walks, or should I say breezes, in an absolute vision of a woman. I could describe her in detail, but my wife reads LTH and I don't want her to think I was overly enamored with this vision of loveliness. 8)

    It was really funny, in an almost cartoon sort of way, she simply glided, not walked, glided to the front of the line and the, mostly male, crowd simply, naturally, parted to let her through. Most with their mouths hanging slightly open. :)

    The all male counter staff converged immediately, looking like nothing other than Keystone Kops as they jostled with each other to take her order. "Cuban sandwich, cafe con leche, por favor." 3-minutes flat she had her coffee and sandwich and out the door.

    Funniest thing was there was an attractive, though slightly older, woman on line with the rest of us. When she saw the stunningly beautiful woman getting preferential treatment she said, "Damn, I lost my stuff!" :shock:

    I happened to leave at the same time as the 'beautiful woman as we were walking out the door, I said, "I now know the secret to quick service at Cafe Marianao, be a beautiful woman" She glanced my way, smiled sweetly and said, sincerely, "thank you"


    Cafeteria Marianao
    2246 N. Milwaukee Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60647
    M-Sat 7-7
    Sunday 7-6
    Parking lot.
    Last edited by G Wiv on September 23rd, 2005, 10:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #2 - October 12th, 2004, 11:56 am
    Post #2 - October 12th, 2004, 11:56 am Post #2 - October 12th, 2004, 11:56 am
    Thanks for reminding me about this place. It's been on my list for a while now. Can you suggest any other must-try place for Cuban sandwiches (the only other one I've heard about is La Unica)?
  • Post #3 - October 12th, 2004, 1:35 pm
    Post #3 - October 12th, 2004, 1:35 pm Post #3 - October 12th, 2004, 1:35 pm

    I have had my one and only Cuban Sandwich recently at Miramar in Highwood. Miramar is owned and designed by Gabriel Viti, who owns Gabriel's just on the other side of the railroad tracks. Prior to hanging his own shingle, he was the chef at Carlo's for a few years.

    Please note the Viti family is quite prominent and numerous in my community. At different times, I have had contact or relations with various members of the family. They are not only chefs, they are involved in insurance, financial planning, dentists, schoolmates to my sisters and I, etc.

    The Cuban Sandwich I had recently was a pressed sandwich of ham and swiss cheese accompanied by matchstick thin potato strings. I was hoping for a garlic mayonnaise, like at Hopleaf, but no dice. These fries are so thin they cannot hold the heat, so they are like canned potato strings in no time. The sandwich was just ok and since I have nothing to compare it to, I don't know how it holds up as the genuine article.

    My friend had a heartier appetite than I, she ordered escargot and linguini with clam sauce. The escargot came in a porcelein dish with maybe 7 wells for the escargot. Each well was about an inch in diameter and over an inch deep. The escargot arrived so hot to the table the garlic butter was actively bubbling. Slick presentation but escargot the size of a small marble were inside, which was a waste. So you were consuming way more butter than you would prefer and very little of the escargot you were desiring. My friend's linguini with clam sauce had fresh clams but a few odd tomatoes which was unexpected. I never tasted it but she was not very enthusiastic her meal.

    The restaurant is designed to look like a Cuban bar whose last makeover was before the Castro revolution. Stamped tin ceilings, mosaic tile floors, bamboo furniture and the exterior is white tile. The whole thing is pretty amusing to me because Miramar takes over three store fronts. The corner was once a pharmacy and until recently an antiques consignment store. Fountana de Trevi was next door for old style Italian red sauce and I cannot remember if the 3rd store front was the Mexican bakery or not. So the reworking of these storefronts into a carefully crafted tired Cuban bar is pretty darn Hollywood.

    This place has been open for a very brief time and has quickly evolved into a North Shore place to be and to be seen. When I was there for lunch recently, I had to deal with carefully slow service to affect the Cuban lifestyle, I guess, and this lady who brought her Golden Retriever. This was one happy dog whose tail kept hitting my back. The waiters brought the dog some water in a take-out foil tray and eventually he settled down for a nap. Nice touch, though it kind of encourages bringing the dog back in the future, which I'm not sure was a great idea.

    As we drove away, we both agreed we were not going to enthusiastically return any time soon. More or less our curiosity was satisfied.

    4 Highwood Avenue
    Highwood, IL 60040

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #4 - October 12th, 2004, 1:58 pm
    Post #4 - October 12th, 2004, 1:58 pm Post #4 - October 12th, 2004, 1:58 pm
    "I don't know how it holds up as the genuine article"

    ...Doesn't sound like it holds up too well, given the missing primary ingredient, roast pork. I had read the same in a review previously. Sounds pretty affected.
  • Post #5 - October 12th, 2004, 3:10 pm
    Post #5 - October 12th, 2004, 3:10 pm Post #5 - October 12th, 2004, 3:10 pm
    Well, not having JeffB's encyclopedic knowledge of Cuban foods, I can only offer my own opinion, based on having tried a number over the years.

    Like the 30s style hamburger, the Cuban sandwich is tranformed by heat into more than the sum of its seemingly plebeian parts. For that to happen requires the light, airy bread the Cubans make-- a Gonnella Italian beef roll seems too substantial once mooshed and heated on the press.

    That said, all sandwiches seem to have their good and not so good points. I would rank some I've had recent enough to recall like this:

    1) La Unica-- seems to pretty much hit on the nose, only problem, it takes forever, so plan accordingly.

    2) Click On Cafe-- Despite the Gonnella roll, I liked this one a lot because the homemade pork was very flavorful. Which made it more a pork sandwich than a Cuban, perhaps.


    3) Cafeteria Marianao-- I'm not as fond of this as others, because the white cheese they use seems so cheap. But I like the beef sandwich a lot, and it's sure got lack of ambience.
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  • Post #6 - October 13th, 2004, 9:44 am
    Post #6 - October 13th, 2004, 9:44 am Post #6 - October 13th, 2004, 9:44 am
    You know, the processed cheese is almost a deal breaker, it's so wrong. I've considered bringing my own swiss to Marianao. On the other hand, you do see that cheap cheese at lesser places in FL, including the school lunchroom at Leto High in Tampa, where Cuban ladies dish out Cuban sandwiches and picadillo 5 days a week.

    I forgive Marianao because of its other charms, esp. the coffee and toast. Also, the cheap cheese melts nicely on a steak sammy.

    By the way, those who like the pork most of all should go for the pan con lechon when they see it on a menu. The name is deceptively simple, bread with pork. Sounds boring, but when it's good, it's very good. Freed from the DOC-like constraints of a Cuban, the sandwich becomes a juicy mess with mojo and onions drenching the bread (unlike the classically dry Cuban or medianoche). Like a pork version of a beef, or a Cuban version of a Philly roast pork. Ambassador always had a good one, though I understand there is some turnover in the kitchen. Try also a pan con picadillo (the original Sloppy Joe) or con ropa vieja, my personal favorite. These are sandwiches where the Gonella roll works well, given its genetic ability to absorb grease and juice yet stay in one piece. I have not seen either in Chicago (I have made both), though I understand that Cafateria de Pancho, near Marianao has one or both.
  • Post #7 - March 14th, 2005, 12:56 pm
    Post #7 - March 14th, 2005, 12:56 pm Post #7 - March 14th, 2005, 12:56 pm
    So I've been on a bit of a Cuban sandwich tasting spree over the last few weeks. I'd tried Ambassador Cafe and Cafe 28 a while back and wasn't impressed with either. Here are my thoughts on more recent expeditions over the last month:

    1) Sabor a Cuba - The worst sandwich of the bunch. The meat and cheese quality is average at best. The pork was certainly nothing to write home about. It was the bread that was the deal breaker though. They must coat it with butter before pressing it, as it tasted like butter saturated toast. Completely overpowering the sandwich.

    2) Cafe Mariano - Much much better. Once I learned how to navigate the counter I was treated to a nice iteration of the sandwich. Good quality bread. The pork could have been a bit more flavor, but it wasn't bad. I personally don't mind the cheap cheese. It could use a bit more mustard and/or pickle to add to the taste, but a good sandwich none the less. It was also well pressed for that crispy texture.

    3) La Unica - This weekend I found the winner of the group. The cafeteria allowed for more stress free ordering than Mariano and was a bit faster on a Saturday afternoon. The bread was great. Pressed to a perfect level and the quality of the meat was better than the rest, especially the pork. Not leaps and bounds better than Mariano, but I enjoyed it more. I will say though that I ordered some black bean soup that was bad and tasted like it was straight out of a Goya can. That being said, this will be my go to place for a Cuban sandwich from this point forth.

    Let me know if I've missed any worthy contenders. It's not Tampa or Miami, but I'm happy getting my fix at La Unica from now on. Unless of course you folks at LTH steer me in the direction of something even better. :D
  • Post #8 - March 14th, 2005, 1:20 pm
    Post #8 - March 14th, 2005, 1:20 pm Post #8 - March 14th, 2005, 1:20 pm
    Buttering the bread first is commonplace; many would say required. Though you don't want them to go overboard. Glad you enjoyed Marianao (named after a beach near La Hbana) and La Unica. 'Bout as Cuban as it gets north of Orlando.

    I fear that Ambassador went from downhill, in my humble opinion, to closed. Not sure what's up, but the lights have not been on for weeks.

    Look for my Cuban list, posted here elsewhere. Though really, you've tried the better places by now.

    PS, I'm surprised regarding the frijoles negros at La Unica. They do not use preprepared foods in my experience. Next time, try the garbanzos. One of the best soups in Chicago, as far as I'm concerned.