Smokies Cuban Cafe

Review by: Michael Stern

A Taste of Cuba in the Smoky Mountains

Nobody comes to the Smoky Mountains in search of excellent Cuban food. But Smokies Cuban Cafe makes it a reasonable quest. Smokies offers a full complement of familiar dishes. Dine here on  roast pork, ropa vieja, picadillo, or paella. Choose from among stuffed yuca, chicharron de pollo, empanadas, and sweet plantains. Drink cafe con leche, a guanabana shake or strong Cuban coffee. $20 buys a nice dinner. Ambience in the quiet, wood-paneled dining room provides a tasteful reprieve from the uncouth commercial corridor outside.

The Famed Cuban Sandwich

If I spent a lot of time in Pigeon Forge, I would relish eating my way through the ups and downs of island cuisine. The one more-or-less Cuban dish I do know something about is a Cuban sandwich. Most historians agree that it did not, in fact, come from Cuba. Cuba’s “Media Noche” sandwich (made on tender bread) inspired it. But Cubans who fled communism for Florida perfected it.

The “Cubano” (aka Cuban mix) these expatriates invented — in Key West, Tampa, or possibly Miami — now ranks as a favorite American sandwich. A perfect storm of multiple ingredients, it includes roast pork, Swiss cheese, ham, mustard, and pickles all piled into a hero loaf. The sandwich would slither apart and fall to pieces as constructed. But heated in a hot grill under a heavy weight, it attains poise and harmony. The weight presses down on the assembled package. It toasts the bread and makes all the different flavor notes bond together. The pork at Smokies Cuban Cafe is especially tender, more pulled than sliced. Bites feel as good on the tongue as they taste.

Dessert & Coffee

Among native desserts, rum cake can’t be beat. Made as an individual little round pastry, it has a sweet vanilla crumb with just-baked tenderness. It comes sopped with enough Cuban rum to seem actually intoxicating. With that cake, of course you want strong Cuban coffee. Or go whole hog and have a cafe bombon, which is espresso with condensed milk and a shot of chocolate.

What To Eat

Cuban Sandwich

Rum Cake


Smokies Cuban Cafe Recipes


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