Thursday, June 19, 2014

Side Trip: Havana Road Cuban Cafe Review (CLOSED)

Update 9/4/14: Havana Road will be closing on September 21, 2014. They will continue their production of prepared foods which can be found at Whole Foods Markets in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Summer is naturally the summer side trip season as time off from school allows for intermittent getaways near and far that allow for a change in scenery and opportunity to try new things. This particular side trip up to Maryland was less for leisure than business because it signaled my official transition from high school student to undergrad. As I spent a few jam-packed days meeting with different departments at my future school in order to iron out some loose ends, I was able to sneak in some gluten-free foodie finds worth sharing. As I will be living up here next fall, the area will become my second home after Central Florida and I cannot wait to explore it further. Since I covered a lot of ground over the course of the trip, my reports will come out over the next week as I regroup and rejuvenate from the hurried pace of travelling. First up on the roster of gluten-free friendly finds from Maryland is Havana Road Cuban Cafe located in Towson, a suburb north of Baltimore.

As a born and bred Floridian, I've grown to love Cuban cuisine which is a staple of Florida's unique culinary tapestry. When doing some pre-travel research on Gluten Free Registry (one of the websites I consult when travelling), Havana Road popped up and caught my attention because their entrees are all gluten free and many were dairy free as well. The restaurant is located in Towson's "downtown" district which was sleepy and pretty empty on a Sunday evening. I didn't mind because I was exhausted after a day full of travelling and just needed a low-key dinner. Cuban food, which I consider a comforting cuisine, was just what I needed to gear up for the craziness of the next few days.



The weather was a wonderful break from the humid furnace that is a Central Florida summer. Though warm, the absence of humidity and bugs made the evening absolutely perfect and inspired my mom and I to dine outdoors to relish the rarity of such pleasant summertime weather. Locke certainly approved our choice as he laid out on the sun-warmed bricks of the sidewalk. Once seated, our waitress greeted us and explained how they mark the menu to show what is gluten free (look for the ** on the restaurant's menu, does not appear on online menu). Looking over all the entrees (which I believe are all gluten-free and dairy free), I was torn between arroz con pollo and mojo pollo asado but after some waffling went for the mojo pollo. After all, how can you not go with a mojo dish at a Cuban restaurant? All entrees are served with white rice, sweet plantains, and Cuban black beans which round out the meal. Once ordering, I sat back and enjoyed the novelty of eating out and excitedly dreamed of the day I'll be up in this neck of the woods on my own.



When the food arrived a short time later, I was more than ready to eat. After snapping a picture, I decided to try the sweet plantains first, as they peaked my curiosity. Growing up, I remember getting sweet plantains with my kid's meals at Bob Marley: A Tribute to Freedom and not liking them very much because they were far different from the french fried I was expecting. On a whim, I decided to give them a second chance, and my first bite completely affirmed my decision to reevaluate them. The sweet fruits were fried in oil to create a crunchy outer rim that was deliciously decadent. Having only two plantains on my plate was the perfect serving size as any more would have been too sweet for dinner. From there, I turned to the mojo pork which was garnished with onions. I loved how the tender, juicy meat was enlivened by the citrus-y and garlic-y mojo sauce. As a die-hard onion lover, I could have had a whole bowl of the onion mix alone. After clearing the chicken, the remaining rice was infused with the taste of the onions and mojo sauce which transformed it from bland and boring to a robust and satisfying. Last, but definitely not least, I sampled the black beans with hesitancy fearing they wouldn't live up to the high esteem I hold Cuban black bean thanks to Orlando's own Black Bean Deli but these held there own. The beans were perfectly textured and had a vinegar flavor that gave them a unique taste. The portion of the beans was a little less than half a cup which was large enough for a taste but small enough to leave me wanting more. As summer slides into fall, I cannot wait to make a return visit to try their black bean soup as a comforting way to warm up as autumn's chill creeps in.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner here because it was delicious and satisfying. I'm definitely putting it on my list of splurges when I can get off campus for a rare meal out. One other thing to note, for those who are alcohol-inclined, the restaurant is BYOB. 


The Basics

Address: 8 W. Pennsylvania Avenue, Towson, MD 21204
Website: Their website and menu (note: gluten-free items are not on online menu)
Cuisine: Cuban 
Ideal For: Lunch, Dinner
Price: Under $20 per person. 
Accessibility: The restaurant was wheelchair accessible. 
Special Features: They offer a four for forty to-go menu that contains enough food for four people for $40. All meals are gluten free and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan upon request. They offer delivery to local addresses through GrubHub.


Disclaimer: This review is based upon the information I have at the time of the review and does not reflect changes in ingredients or availability of items. Please contact the restaurant directly for up-to-date information and feel free to to contact me with any questions or comments. I was not compensated for this review and it is a reflection of my personal opinion.

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