In the past year, Atlanta has taken a few stiff upper cuts to its Cuban jaw. Fire gutted Havana (reportedly due to arson) in October after owner Silvesonso Ramirez closed Midtown’s Kool Korner Grocery in August. The opportunity gave Papi’s (pronounced like Poppy seed) the chance to snag market share. Backed by an already strong following, the restaurant upgraded its digs, expanded its interior, and even added a new location.
Nowadays, Papi’s in Midtown is a hopping lunch spot with long lines and a devoted following. Given its proximity to my home and its new found fame, it was only a matter of time before I worked it in on the Atlanta Sub & Sandwich Tour.
Whether the result of the previously mentioned attrition or their own hard work, Papi’s in Midtown has seen their business swell. Moreover, each of their locations has climbed near the top of most everyone’s list of best Cuban food in Atlanta. Case in point: here and here.
Today’s inclement weather gave me the perfect excuse to keep things close to home. In the mood for a late lunch, I sauntered over to Papi’s, picked up one of their Spanish language newspapers, and ordered a couple of my standards and a can of my favorite sugar buster.
Sandwich 1: Papi’s Cuban Sandwich
Ingredients: roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, lettuce, tomato, onions, mustard, & mayonnaise on Cuban bread
The only difference between the traditional Cuban and the Papi’s Cuban is the addition of the L, T, & O. I wanted some greens; after all, what’s the best way to make an unhealthy sandwich good for you? That’s right… add veggies.
These sandwiches look as appealing as possible. Specifically to the Cuban, the cacophony of colors actually seems to work well here. I bit in and savored the buttery goodness of the bread. That’s where the joy began and ended. The roasted pork was dry like the Sahara Desert. Marinated in “Papi’s secret sauce,” you expect the flavors to be unique to this Cubano. For better or worse, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The pork tastes like most every roasted pork you come into contact. The flavors aren’t bad, they just don’t drive me in one direction or another. I usually add tableside oil and vinegar to this sandwich; today was no exception. The sliced ham is fine and the cheese, when taken with the glob of mayonnaise, makes this one creamy sandwich. Like the flavor of the roasted pork, the ham and Swiss taste just like you’d expect.
The veggies are there and are fine, but don’t look for Georgia’s finest here. Nope, these are your basic examples of a tomato and lettuce. Neither bad nor good, they are just there. I finished the half I was prepared to eat, wiped my mouth, and moved on to the next.
Sandwich 2: Pan con Croquette
Ingredients: minced ham croquettes, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, & mayonnaise on Cuban bread
For a very real reason, this is my favorite sandwich on the menu. It really has little to do with the flavor of the sandwich itself and more to do with the amount of fat content found within. While today’s edition did in fact taste exactly like every other sample I’ve had, yesterday’s performance doesn’t factor in here.
Again, the bread was the star of the show. With the Cuban, I find the bread seems like an entrance way to the flavor (that ultimately doesn’t deliver). Here, it seems like the last bastion of sanity. It’s buttery and rich, but can’t compete with the deep fried goodness that follows. The croquettes themselves are good … but it’s kinda hard for you to screw this up if you are what Papi’s is.
The minced meat and fried breadcrumb casing always plays well together texturally. Much like Papi’s roasted pork, the concoction has little in the way of unique or distinctive flavor. The croquettes taste like any self-respecting Cuban croquette. Neither bad nor good, they tell you that you are shorting your life span with every mysteriously tasty bite. Meanwhile, the sliced ham gives the sandwich some tear. While the croquettes split apart with ease (as they should), the ham gives you a little resistance. Overall, it really helps with the sandwiches texture.
Then of course, you have the Swiss cheese and mayonnaise. Translation: fat amongst more fat.
The true failure of the sandwich is that it lacks direction. The bread is good, the croquettes are good, the ham is good. They are all solid representations of their respective family. I always douse mine in the hot sauce provided and then dip it in mustard for some acidity.
Ultimately, Papi’s needs to give this some personality and the sandwich makes you guilty for eating it. But, should you really complain about deep fried ham added to cooked ham and what is essentially edible fat? Unless you are trying to get Americans to actually respect their bodies … probably not.
Conclusions & Notes
While Muss & Turners scored higher on the tour, I think that this place had less offenses. Without KK and Havana to fight it out with, Papi’s in Midtown offers some of the better Cuban sandwiches in town. I’d be much more impressed if they were able to put a real stamp on the food. Instead, they rely on proteins that do what they are supposed to do, nothing more and nothing less.
Tour Ratings (Explained Here)