I lived in Puerto Rico from the ages 7-12, and while the island itself held many great memories growing up, the food always bring back so many vivid ones. I remember going to our church fair and looking forward to getting bacalaitos – cod-fish fritters. I recently had one in Birmingham and it took me directly back to the church fair when I was 9 years old. Amazing how food can do that to you.
When I met Luis Delgado, he had his business – Miami Café – operating out of gas station in Alabaster. I remember going to visit him with my friend, Luis Fernandez to talk to him about participating in Fiesta – Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural event, as a food vendor. We enjoyed an amazing lunch that day and I was completely sold on his food from that moment on.
Fast forward to this past week…Luis has been hard at work since last October, converting the old Cameo Café in downtown Birmingham into his new Miami Fusion Café location! I’ve been following his short Facebook videos on the progress and challenges of opening a restaurant. He’s always so honest, and puts it all out there for you to see. I love that about him. Many people have been anxiously awaiting the grand opening and that will finally happen on Monday, May 22nd to the delight of many – me included! I work within walking distance of Luis’ new location and I cannot wait to try everything on his menu!
I was fortunate to be able to attend the soft opening this past Friday. When I arrived a little after 11 a.m., there were just a few people sitting in the restaurant enjoying their food. I was taking photos as I entered the Café so that naturally drew a little attention. I went to the counter and Roxie was ready to take my order and make recommendations. I thought about going for the Roasted Port as she suggested, but I remembered seeing a photo of a sushi roll on Facebook and I thought…now THAT’S something you don’t typically see in a Caribbean style restaurant! So I ordered the Cuban CariMaki Roll and Roxie seemed pleased with my choice!
While I waited for my food, I walked around the restaurant taking photos and spent some time speaking with Luis’ mother – Maria Teresa. She took me around and showed me some of the artwork displayed in the restaurant and told me there is more to come. We talked about the art deco style design of the restaurant and also the colors selected. I love the gold tones of the walls and the red accents in the booth seats. It gives the store front a tropical vibe. Later, when Luis was out from the kitchen, he told me and a few other patrons about how he built the bars and added the art deco embellishments by hand. He also created the new door for the store, after which he commented…”that’s why this took so long! I did all of this by hand!” I told him the love and care he put into this place is so evident! Luis also talked about how he wants to make the bar I was sitting at an active one where maybe one month he is making Cuban sandwiches so people can see how it’s done and then another month serving up ice cream with tropical flavors like tamarindo and mango. He completely had me at tamarindo…another great memory of Puerto Rico for me!
My food arrived and all I can say is – OMG!!!! The Cuban CariMaki roll is made with Cuban palomilla steak, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and grilled onions. It is topped with sweet plantains which is that surprise flavor you are not expecting when you pop one of these into your mouth! As I was eating, people were coming into the store and trying to decide what to order and many saw my plate and walked over to have a look. I know the roasted pork plate was popular on Friday but I do believe my oohing and aahing sold quite a few CariMaki rolls too!
In addition to the main courses, like Masitas, Mofongo and Cuban sandwiches, there are a number of sides you have to try as well. Several people ordered the tostones, which are green plantains that have been flattened and double fried until they are golden brown with a side of mojo sauce. Fried Yuca sticks were another favorite – also described as a Caribbean style French fry. And don’t forget the empanadas – fried pies with your choice of chicken or beef! I could make a meal out of empanadas alone!
Finally…if you have a bit of a sweet tooth there are some great options to try. First, the Jesus Cake – also known as Tres Leches (Three Milks) cake and Guava pastry. You can’t go wrong with either…which is why I got both! I watched someone say they were just going to take a few bites of the Jesus cake and before you knew it that cake was gone! If you like creamy desserts, this is the one for you! The guava pastry is one of those foods that takes me back to Puerto Rico. Very flaky crust with just a hint of sweetness. Great with Cuban coffee!
I always love the tidbits of information you get at events like this too. Luis talked about searching for a man named Fernando who makes the Cuban bread for him. Fernando was doing other work but when he came to the restaurant it was clear he missed making bread and came on board. Bread is a huge factor in making Cuban sandwiches! My next meal at Miami Fusion Café will be a Cuban sandwich…I already know it! Luis also has big plans for the upstairs of the restaurant with catering and events. His mind is always twirling with ideas!
After taking a few more photos of the foods leaving the kitchen and talking to a few more patrons, it was time for me to go. I talked again to Roxie, who brought me a large bag so I could take my Jesus Cake and guava dessert home. She said she looked forward to seeing me for lunch on Monday with my husband. I told her I couldn’t wait to come back often! We joked how I had camped out at the bar area while I was there. I told her I didn’t want to leave and that I needed a plaque with my name claiming that spot as my own! She replied, “well, you’re family when you come in…we want you to stay!”
This was the perfect way for me to leave Miami Fusion Café on Friday. I felt like family the minute I walked into the restaurant. I know you will too, so please do yourself a favor and go by if you are in Birmingham. Luis and his staff are anxious to serve you!
P.S. On Saturday morning, Luis and his wife, Samantha, added to their lovely family with the birth of a daughter! Quite a big week for the Delgado family…the restaurant opening and now a new baby! Congratulations to Luis and Samantha and best wishes for great success with Miami Fusion Café!
I work in Southside, so I’ll be checking this one out soon!