A few weeks ago, I once again found myself neck-deep in an in-depth sandwich discussion (yes, this is a regular occurrence for a sandwich person like myself), and somebody asked me what exactly constitutes a Cuban sandwich. And I was left puzzled. Because, beyond the hallmark inclusion of ham and the fact that it’s a thin sandwich? I had no idea.
So I ventured over to Shadyside for a little place just off the beaten path of that same Walnut Street that brought us the Elbow Room a while back, arriving at the Pittsburgh Deli Company. As you might guess from the name, it’s primary (and, really, only) dishes are sandwiches. I have eaten at PDC many times in my previous experience and knew that it was one place you could find a particularly delectable Cuban sandwich. Their version, which follows the traditional recipe fairly closely, consists of a layering of ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, dijon mustard, and pickles grilled on flatbread. And I’m sure you’re already tasting each ingredient in the sandwich, but let me tell you that this one must be enjoyed in person to fully appreciate it: it’s got a few twists and turns.
Let’s start with the overall taste: salty, a little oily, and absolutely addicting. The ham is prepared just right, with a little crisp on the edges; not too dark, but it adds character to the head honcho of the filler. And so you don’t get bored with the consistency of the ham, the roasted pork adds more texture to the sandwich. It’s flavor isn’t killer, but what it lacks there it more than makes up for when complementing the ham. Next comes my personal favorite touch of the sandwich: the pickle bits. Normally, a sandwich with pickles will have pickle slices. Not on this burnin’ hunk of Cuban goodness. The pickle bits add an almost comical spark to the sandwich; they’re fresh and refreshing, but since they’re not in every bite, you find the bites with them that much more enjoyable: it’s almost like a hide-and-seek with pickle bits!
Then there’s the melding of the swiss cheese, dijon mustard and flatbread that bookend the fantastic filler. The mustard is the base flavor here: every once in a while, you’ll get a strong hint of the dijon, but it’s mainly a background dancer. Nevertheless, it’s role can’t be downplayed; mustard always plays a key role in sandwich construction, if only for a little kick here and there. Now, the melted swiss cheese is another one of my favorite parts. There was one bite where I just stopped chewing for a second and had to ask myself, “What was that flavor?” I had become so engrossed in the salty meats that the melted swiss took me by surprise and brightened up the sandwich even more. And, of course, throughout the entire sandwich, the grilled flatbread adds a little extra crunch and excitement that would be absent with normal bread, making it that much more unique.
The Cuban is a special sandwich; there are so many components that have their own, distinct flavors. When combined like they are here, with the fabulous craftsmanship displayed at PDC, the end result is a must-have sandwich.