Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vanishing Point: The Lost Art of Cuban Sandwich Signs

They used to be everywhere one went. Pictures of Cuban Sandwiches painted on restaurant front  windows and walls, letting passers-by know that staple of Tampa cuisine was available inside. One by one, they were razor-bladed off windows, stripped off walls, covered over, and done away with. While at the many events of the Cuban Sandwich Show, the idea came to me to go on a little expedition to find and document the ones that are left. Here's what I found that afternoon...

Here's a very graphic rendition of a Cuban, surrounded by Modernist fluorishes. Love the abstraction in the bread crust, and the contents of the sandwich, which are overflowing from the sides, an indicator of proper excess in a Cuban.

On the right you can see the context in which this beauty floats, hierarchically above the mamey shake. All at the Lincoln Spanish restaurant.

Close-up of sign on left.

At Mi Ranchito, here's a sign indicating the "Best Cuban" is to be found inside. I love the banner's style, and not one, but two halves of a Cuban tantalizing you. Note the de rigueur overflow of meat, and a rather honest rendition of the amount of meat in it. Also, no tomatoes or lettuce to be seen.

The art continues inside, and I went inside because the smell of pork emanating from this place is irresistible.

The Primordial Chickens
The Primordial Sandwich

There they were....the sacred pair, the Adam and Eve of the Chicken World, looking over the Paradise that was their native Cuba...their descendants still prowl, crow and cavort through the Paradise that is Ybor City. On the right is the half of the sandwich that was left by the time I thought of taking a picture. Note the genuine fritas sitting atop the perfectly toasted bread crust. The Mi Ranchito sandwich has the most extraordinary pork ever.

I saw this on the side of a restaurant on Howard or Armenia Note the 8-mile banquet-style length of this one. It has an infinite momentum, & sits in a heavenly cloud, contents overflowing its sides. This one is almost in what I refer to as the "mystic float" composition that used to be the norm for these signs.  It Lords over the other food options. What does realism have to do with a Cuban Sandwich, anyway?

This chunky, lettuce and tomato loaded version faces Armenia, I think. They got down to basics here. Hot and Cold Cubans, Newports, and what is that blue thing on the left edge of the frame? Talk about tradition. It's another lost thing, a public phone. Note the compositional transition between the phone box, the larger Newport cig poster/frame, and how it is about as tall as the Cuban is long. It sits in an on-the-table perspective waiting for you.

Last, but not least, is "The Best", a school-bus-size, horizontal, horizon-blotting Cuban floating on what appears to be a prairie, against a blue, nah, make that a Montana blue sky, like a low-flying UFO.

The lateral overflow is a veritable Cuban Cornucopia. This is a symbol of plenty, almost an altar to fulfillment and an icon of culture. Note how right below it sits a mammoth cup of cafe con leche, its steam rising like incense, connecting with the sandwich.

A note of thanks to these restaurants, who in an era of generic paninis, continue to offer the near-sacrament of the Cuban Sandwich, Cafe con Leche, Flan, and more, reminding us: This is who we are.

--- Luis

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