Tonight the Predators will be in Sunrise, Florida, just outside of Miami, to take on the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers joined the NHL in 1993 as an expansion team. They’ve made one run to the Stanley Cup Final, in 1996, and lost to Colorado. This appearance impacted at least one current member of the Predators’ roster: Pekka Rinne. In his recent article he talks about his first NHL inspiration at goalie: Hall of Famer John “Beezer” Vanbiesbrouck, who manned the net for the Panthers during that time period.

They’re currently home to Jaromír Jágr, the oldest player in the league, and one of only two active players in the league (Shane Doan) who were active during that ’96 Panthers run.

The Panthers play at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, just outside of Miami. It has been their home since 1998. The BB&T Center has also been home to several now-defunct teams: The Miami Caliente (Lingerie Football League), The Florida Pit Bulls (American Basketball Association), The Florida BobCats (Arena Football League), and the Florida Thundercats (National Professional Soccer League).

The Panthers have two mascots: Stanley C. Panther and Viktor E. Ratt. Have fun with those plays on words. Stanley was their original mascot, and debuted alongside the team. They’ve been in the news lately for a lawsuit from one of the former men inside the costume. Viktor made his appearance in 2014. He’s based on the tradition of the Rat Trick. In that famed 95-96 season, Scott Mellanby killed a rat with his stick in the locker room before a game and went on to score two goals. Since then, fans have occasionally celebrated goals by throwing rats down onto the ice. Plastic rats are sold at the Pantherland gift shop, and the ones thrown onto the ice are resold for future throwing.

Miami’s location makes it home to a great combination of seafood, Caribbean food, and Cuban food – the fusion of which is sometimes referred to as “Floribbean Cuisine.” Today I will be narrowing the focus to some of the Cuban cuisine native to the area, most specifically the Cuban sandwich, and will be saving the others for future match-ups.

The Cuban sandwich is probably the most widely recognizable Miami version a Cuban-influenced meal; it’s even shown up on menus here in Indiana (where people are just now discovering that you can put seasoning on your chicken).  The traditional version of the sandwich involves taking a loaf of Cuban bread (very similar to Italian bread, but with lard added in the ingredients) and adding a layer of mustard, thinly sliced ham, roasted pork, and dill pickles. The bread is brushed with olive oil or butter and heated and pressed together on a plancha which is basically just a panini press without the grooves on it. If you had been in search of a Cuban sandwich before last night’s game in Tampa Bay, you would have also found salami on it – there’s an ongoing debate between the two cities as to if the sandwich should include it or not.

One of the best ways to take in all of the Cuban cuisine in the area is to go on the Little Havana Food Tour. You’ll get a guided tour of Little Havana, samples of traditional food and drink at five different restaurants, learn about hand-rolling techniques for Cuban cigars, and hear stories from immigrant artists who escaped Cuba.

If you’re a little tired from a late night in Miami (or from games on back-to-back nights), try a Cuban espresso. Start with the widely available Cafe Bustelo espresso and mix in some demerara sugar (think of a larger-grained brown sugar; very similar in taste) while it is brewing. If you’re making at home without fancy equipment but want that coffeehouse look, you can pour just a little bit of espresso in with the sugar, mix it to a paste-like consistency, and then pour that back over the top of the espresso.  (For a simple southern solution: add a spoonful of molasses to some dark roast coffee.)

The Cuban version of croquettes are also very popular both for snacks, side dishes, and with street vendors. They’re a breaded and fried food roll popular in many cultures; the Cuban version typically contains potatoes, cheese and either pork or chicken, and occasionally seafood. They also use a dip called “mayo-ketchup,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

The Versailles Restaurant claims to be “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” which is a big claim for a place named after a palace in France. That said, they’ve been open since 1971, and in the early years they were a major gathering place for refugees who had escaped Cuba and were looking to be reunited with family and friends. Politicians and media alike frequent the restaurant to gauge the opinions of the locals on various social and political issues.

One of the most popular spots for a Cuban sandwich is Enriquetas Sandwich Shop, which is a great example of good food being found in shady looking spots. They even have a Cuban sandwich with croquettes on it!  Sergio’s is a local chain that has authentic Cuban foods and some Caribbean and Central America fare. The Caribe Cafe claims to have bigger portions for smaller prices than anyone else in town – and plays you some fun music while you check out their menu online!

El Palicio del los Jugos has great Cuban sandwiches, but stands out from the crowd with their offerings of fresh-pressed juices. Sarussi Subs offers a slightly different take on the sandwiches – the same ingredients, but in sub sandwich form – and are famous for their 2.5 pound Cuban sub that was featured on Man vs. Food. Check out the videoSparky’s Roadside BBQ puts a little Southern fusion twist on the Cuban sandwich: they salt cure their ham and slow smoke their pork shoulders. You can also add guava habanero sauce to your traditional smoked meats for a unique flavor.

That’s only a small sampling of the plethora of both authentic Cuban and Cuban-inspired restaurants in the Miami area, of course. Any search for “Cuban food Miami” comes up with endless lists.

But now it is time for me to probably offend some of the locals and natives with my game-day version of the Cuban: Simple Cuban Sandwich Sliders. 

What you’ll need:

  • Loaf style French bread
  • Thinly sliced honey ham
  • Thick cut “carving board” style ham (between 1/8 – 1/4 inch)
    • Simply Orange Juice
    • Garlic Powder
    • Onion Powder
    • Paprika
    • Sea Salt
    • Crushed peppercorns
  • Swiss cheese slices
  • Thinly sliced dill pickles
  • Dijon mustard
  • Olive oil or melted butter
  • Glass of bourbon (for yourself)

And here’s what you’ll do:

  • Put the carving board ham in a zipper bag with orange juice, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, sea salt, and peppercorn. Let it marinate for a couple hours.
  • Pour the contents of the bag into a skillet and simmer on low for an hour or so for the ham to really absorb the flavor. This will simulate the roast pork flavor without doing a whole pork roast.
  • Florida 1
  • Cut the bread down to a manageable size, and slice into halves. Brush the outside of the bread with olive oil or melted butter, and brush the inside with the mustard.
  • Florida 2
  • Layer the thinly sliced ham, the simmered ham, the Swiss cheese, and the pickles on the bottom side of the bread.  Notice the direction of the pickle slices – this will ensure even distribution later.
  • Florida 3Florida 4
  • Wrap it all in foil. Place in a hot iron skillet (medium heat) and press a smaller iron skillet on top of it to simulate the plancha press.  Do this for about 2 minutes on each side. Any longer will start scorching the bread (learned this the hard way).
  • Florida 5
  • Each 1/2 loaf of Italian bread made 6 sliders, so it’s easy to adjust accordingly for how many guests you’re having!

Florida 6

Florida 7

(I made these before work… so I had to substitute the bourbon for some coffee. I did add some brown sugar to get as close to the Cuban style as possible!)