Malanga Cafe

 

2.5 stars for a new home for old Cuban comfort in Pinecrest

malanga

Jodi Mailander Farrell

A hairy, brown tuber may seem an unlikely namesake for a restaurant, but it made sense to Melissa and Tony Vias, who intend their 8-month-old Malanga Cafe to satisfy Old Cuba yearnings. “In Cuba, the old folks used to solve every problem with malanga,” says Tony Vias. “Ulcer? Smash up boiled malanga with milk. Stomachache? Make malanga soup.“

You don’t have to be Cuban to enjoy this charmer, but you may need to check your Cubanics app to decipher the expressions painted on one wall. Le ronca el mango, for instance, which translates “It snores the mango,” is slang for “That’s just too much.” The Cubanisms share wall space with patrons’ autographs, a tribute to La Bodeguita del Medio, a restaurant-bar in Old Havana where Ernest Hemingway, Nat King Cole and others left handwritten messages on the walls.

Malanga may be the name, but the cafe is really all about the pig. Marinated, barbecued, roasted, shredded — you can go whole hog here. Literally. A 14-pound suckling pig is spit-roasted on the patio every Saturday. A whole cochinillo, roasted or stuffed with congri, can be pre-ordered ($135-$165). It’s not just the atmosphere that evokes an earlier era. Croquettes (ham, chicken or chorizo) are handmade. Corn is ground by hand for the house-made Cuban tamales. The velvety malanga soup is prepared fresh daily.

Married for six years, the Viases have five kids in their combined family, ages 11 months to 22 years old. They’ve just added to their brood a food truck that’s starting to make the rounds at meet-ups throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties. If driving to Pinecrest for pan con lechon isn’t a possibility, the pig may find its way to you.

Ambience: Black-and-white Cuban photos, including a poster-size one of fame bandleader Benny Moré, add to the atmosphere, as does the old-school Cuban music. The small dining room with rows of wooden tables covered in lime-green cloth and topped with white butcher paper can be crowded on weekend nights, so it’s smart to make reservations.

What Worked

  • Pan con lechon - a monster-sized sandwich  made with soft Cuban bread and stuffed with mounds of moist, shredded roast pork, lettuce and tomato, with a flavorful side of sautéed onions and freshly made mojo for drizzling or dipping
  • The bistec empanizado, topped with grilled onions and that tasty mojo
  • Fried boniato chunks with a creamy, slightly sweet interior encased in light, crunchy batter
  • Sweet fried malanga countered by a sauce of fresh parsley, garlic and olive oil
  • The hosts’ warmth and the genuine fun they seem to be having

 

What Didn't Work

  • La Lechoncita shredded pork with guava sauce & shreded, grilled chicken with mango sauce - both overpowered by thick swirls of sweet syrup
  • Excessively sweet baby back ribs with guava barbecue sauce
  • Spotty service

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