La Cabana Cuban Flavor
For a while, it seemed that Knoxville was a revolving door of Cuban-cuisine restaurants. In recent years, however, that door has been stuck, with the only notable Cuban eateries I’ve noticed being ones flourishing in Townsend and Maryville. (What up with that, Blount County?)
So I was jazzed about hearing of the recent opening of La Cabana on Campbell Station Road in Knoxville, just off Interstate 40. The Grub Spouse and I showed up the other evening, ready to immerse ourselves in the restaurant’s self-described Cuban flavor.
The menu isn’t voluminous, but it definitely covers the Cuban-isle basics. We decided to start with one of the side items, the empanadas, as an appetizer. Other sides include the requisite maduros (sweet plantains), fried yucca, tostones (green plantains) and congris (Cuban-style rice and beans).
As for a main course, the options fall primarily between sandwiches and entrees. They offer the classic ham-and-pork-stuffed Cuban sandwich, naturally, while other bun-friendly fillings include steak, pulled beef, ground beef and veggies. The Spouse, a big Cuban sandwich fan, ordered one of those.
I was tempted by several different entrees, including my favorite Cuban dish, the picadillo — ground beef marinated in spices and served with rice, tostones and salad. Other entrée possibilities include marinated pork, marinated chicken simmered in yellow rice and Cuban shrimp scampi.
I decided to break out of my comfort zone and try something new. This night, it would be the Ropa Vieja, which is shredded flank steak simmered and sautéed with grilled onions, garlic and other spices. It’s served with maduros, congris and salad.
I liked the looks of this place. It’s cozy but nicely decorated in an unpretentious but modern-upscale theme. The boldly accented earth tones and photos of classic Cuban-culture sites were interesting without being distracting.
They were doing a brisk business that evening, which had the two servers at loose ends. Despite their friendliness and best intentions, they seemed to be perpetually trying to keep up with diners’ needs during the time we were there.
Fortunately, the food was an adequate compensation for the often-lagging service. The empanada pastry was a little more crisp than what I typically run across, but the filling was indeed a tasty treat.
I was very happy with the Ropa Vieja. The steak was superbly seasoned, and the plantains provided a sweet balance. The rice grain was finer than average, and the beans more sparse, but I really enjoyed the uniquely flavored congris. Meanwhile, The Cuban sandwich was true to form with its layers of sliced ham and pork topped with mustard and pickles. The bread seemed different in texture and shape than what I’ve usually experienced at Cuban eateries, but there was no distinction to be made in the eating.
In 10 years of Grubbing, The Spouse and I had never tried flan, anywhere, but we decided to be bold and try La Cabana’s coconut flan for dessert. The custardy wedge and the use of flavored sauces to drizzle a depiction of a coconut tree on the plate made a pretty presentation. But after eating this largely bland, tofu-like dessert, we concluded we’d not be in a hurry to rush back to the flan well in the future.
Dessert notwithstanding, however, I think most of you Cuban-food fans will like what you taste at La Cabana.
La Cabana Cuban Flavor
Food: 4 stars (out of five)
Address: 723 North Campbell Station Road
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays
Beer service only; alcohol permit pending
Bottom Line: Enjoy a culinary tour of Cuba at this new West Knox restaurant.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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