Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary of serving Cuban food and beverages in Old City, and they're celebrating with a revamp of the menu after Chef Guillermo Pernot recently spent time in Cuba cooking with friends and chefs, bringing back recipes and inspiration.
It's been over 5 years since I've eaten at Cuba Libre, so I jumped at the chance when the restaurant invited me to join them for a bloggers brunch to sample their new Brunch Without Borders menu.
The Brunch Without Borders menu features 30 small plates ranging from breakfast staples like French toast to traditional Cuban taro root fritters, and just about everything else you could ever want for brunch, all with Cuban flare.
For $25 you can sample as many small brunch plates as you want until 1:30pm. Conditions of the unlimited Brunch Without Borders are that all guest at the table must participate, and bags of leftovers are not allowed. If you're not feeling quite so hungry, you are free to order a la cart from the menu until 2:30pm.
The brunch menu is broken down into four sections: pescados, carne, vegetales, and sopas y otros cosas. There are plenty of dishes for a vegetarian to choose from without feeling limited.
Our server recommended about 5 plates per person, but, of course, if you're doing the unlimited brunch you can order as many as you like. Our server also stating that the service would be paced so that all of the plates did not come out at once, so if you're feeling too full and realize you over ordered, you can call it quits. While not all of the plates came out at once, four dishes landed at the table to start, and I already felt overwhelmed with the pacing of the dishes.Cuba Libre has many rum drinks and tropical cocktails, as well as mimosas and bloody marys (drinks aren't included in the $25 brunch), but we chose to keep the imbibing healthy with a sampler of aqua frescas. Small glasses of fresh passion fruit, mamey, guanabana, lulo, and guava juices arrived in a cute blue wooden crate. Perfect for the indecisive, or those who want it all.
The corn pancakes (sans bacon) were my favorite dish, despite the fact that I rarely order or truly enjoy pancakes at restaurants. The fluffy pancakes tasted for the most part like standard pancakes, and only slightly of corn, but the dollop of sweet mango butter and slightly bitter rum molasses syrup jazzed up a brunch standard. If you like mineral-y syrups like cane syrup, sorghum, or molasses, you'll love these pancakes.
Note to deal-seekers: these pancakes ($6) are larger than they appear, and, honestly, this dish alone would have sufficed if you want to keep brunch to a reasonable amount of food.
My second favorite dish was the Huevo Habanero. Despite the name, the poached egg in enchilada sauce with grilled corn salsa is not a mouth burner, but a pleasantly balanced savory dish with just a hint of heat. We just wished for more subtly sweet, spongy, Monterey Jack cheese arepas to sop up the sauce.The Cuban chocolate waffle with bananas, dried cherries, whipped cream, and vanilla syrup was one of the boy's favorite dishes (mine, too) even though the dried cherries could have been a little more hydrated to make them softer, and we wanted a bit more syrup. The edges of the waffle were crispy, and the waffle was chocolate. Chocolate! Enough said.The boy's other favorite dish was the African adobo-rubbed charred tuna with pickled cucumbers and avocado salsa surrounded by Meyer lemon-curry oil. I can't comment on this dish, but it made the boy's top two, so there's that.Another dish I can't comment on is the mojito cured salmon and Boursin cheese grilled “Medianoche” sandwich with grape tomatoes and pickled cucumber salad. While the boy said the sandwich was perfectly fine, and resembled a grilled cheese in preparation crossed with a finger sandwich in fillings, he just wasn't feeling it (I bet he'd be feeling it at midnight!). The slightly sweet and salty pickled cucumbers and tomatoes were gobbled up, though.Similarly, I felt the hazelnut and almond encrusted brioche French toast topped with a dense and rich Frangelico-Mascarpone, strawberries, and strawberry-honey drizzle was perfectly fine, but I just wasn't feeling it. The sum of the parts of fancy French toast at almost every eatery just never seems to add up to my high expectations.
Billed as a traditional Cuban appetizer of purple taro root, garlic and culantro, the friturras de malanga (taro fritters) were our least favorite of the bunch. The outside of the fritters had a great crunch a deep brown color, but the insides were soggy (undercooked?) and bland. Taro is not that flavorful naturally, and I'm sure the exotic sweet and sour tamarind ketchup is supposed to counter the neutral taro, but I want flavor at both ends of the plate.Problem is solved by ordering the very flavorful and rich spinach and Manchego cheese puffs atop a tangy goat cheese ranch sauce and organic olive oil that was so good we wanted more to drag the crispy puffs through. Like the taro fritters, though, we thought the inside could have been cooked a little more, or at least a little less wet.Hope you like mushrooms (I do, but was expecting more greens than mushrooms), because you get a fairly large plate of fungi when you order the grilled, citrus marinated mushroom salad topped with mixed micro-greens. The citrus marinade and thinly sliced red onions add a little zip to the salad.If you're militant about having guacamole "just so" you might want to skip the Guacamole Cubano which has cubed (not mashed) avocado and hunks of pineapple. I found the guacamole perfectly salted, light, and tropical, but I don't get upset when "foreign" objects (pineapple in guacamole is actually traditional in Cuba) find their way into my guac. The accompanying ultra crispy, salted plantain chips are a nice change from tortilla chips.The twice-fried, savory, green plantain tostones were bigger than any we've ever seen. Hot, lightly salted, and non-greasy, I wish I had more room in my stomach to use the fried green plantains as a vehicle for the compelling garlic mojo dipping sauce which was tart and garlicky, two of my favorite tastes.
We ordered eleven dishes between two people in order to sample as much of the menu as we could (there were still a few vegetarian dishes that we didn't get to!), and lets just say that we grossly over ordered. If you do not enjoy gorging yourself, I might recommend ordering a la carte.
If you want a license to order without limits, you really can't go wrong with any dish on Cuba Libre's Brunch Without Borders menu, as we were quite impressed with the quality and tastiness of all the dishes that came out of Cuba Libre's kitchen.
With a new, expansive menu, you might want to consider Cuba Libre for brunch (I never had until now), not only for the great food, but, seriously, it's just crazypants to wait an hour for brunch like you have to do at some of the more popular brunch spots in town.
Disclosure: The above meal and drinks were provided to me by Cuba Libre as part of a "blogger brunch." However, my opinions are all my own.
10 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106