Before you downtown purists get all huffy about the title “Diamond in the Rough” being given out to something other than Cozy Corner or Lunchbox Eats, let me stop you there. Your wrong. Shut the eff up. A diamond in the rough, by definition, is something hidden from view or unexplored. Those two places (as have other old standby hole-in-the-walls) have been exploited to death. Enough.
Havana’s Pilan is Memphis’ first authentic Cuban cuisine, and it’s relatively new (couldn’t get a straight answer from the staff on exact dates so there’s thaaaat). I quite literally stumbled upon it after a few pints at Brass Door on Madison Ave. Located directly across the street, Havana’s Pilan is a very unassuming deli that is completely dead on a week night. However, I googled the spot and the website was so outrageous that I had to visit. So I snagged a foodie pal and went. Holy Cow.
FIRST of all, we were greeted by the most obliging mo fo I have ever encountered. This handsome Aladdin look-alike is named Leo, and customer service is his priority número uno. Do not let the deli appearance discourage: they have a side room that feels like a dinning room (and frankly, if you are that snobby as to not eat at a deli, read a someone else’s blog because you are beyond help). We learned every single thing is made to order mostly by the owner herself, Marialys Gonzalez. Want to bring beer? No problemo. Forgot to bring beer? Leo will walk to the corner market and he will BUY YOU A SIX PACK. Now that is customer service, y’all. I asked him what his favorite thing on the menu was, and he quickly answered with the guava and cheese empanada. Here they are, and describing will be difficult but I will try:
The guava and cheese empanada is like if you could watch Javier Bardem and Hallie Berry get down. It is a very unexpected coupling but very complementary. It’s super hot and a holy triumph of combining Spanish and African ingredients with Cubano flare (after all, much of Cuban cuisine is influenced by Spain and Africa). And just like a sexy coupling, it leaves you wanting more… So we ate more.
(Check havanaspilan.com for more photos and menu descriptions. I became too busy eating to document further).
Other items to pique my interest were the fried plantains and boiled yucca. The boiled yucca is very similar to mashed potatoes, and they are good. However, the fried plantains are served with a mustard-based dipping sauce and freakin’ amazeballs. In fact, after ordering a bevy of items and enjoying my (perhaps contraband) beer from around the corner, my bill of less than $15 was astonishing. I fully recommend this spot to anyone, foodie or picky eater alike, as they have run-of-the-mill chicken and rice, etc, if you are that boring.
I suggest you grab some Havana’s Pilan to go and take the trolley to the Forum to watch some basketball. It’s a frugal fix and fab find (and beats the shiz out of some over-priced chicken fingers).
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