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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Havana Café brings a taste of Cuba to Old Ottawa South—but don’t expect the heat

Simple honest Cuban food doesn't try to be trendy

The Place: Havana Café (not to be confused with Savana Café on Gilmour) is a brand new lunch spot on Bank Street in the space formerly occupied by Sixth Sense catering. Fashionistas will recognize one of the owners as Alison Hughes from HUSH clothes, a Wellington West consignment boutique. (Hughes was also the lead stylist and coordinator for Ottawa Fashion Week.) The handsome guy running the kitchen is Hughes’ husband, Oslaide Guerra, who hails from — where else? — Cuba. (Gratuitous detail: the couple met at her aunt and uncle’s wedding in the Cuban resort where Guerra was working. They have an adorable one-year-old daughter).

The Deal: With only two little tables and bare-bones decor, I think the term café might be a bit of a stretch. But I also get the sense this budding little business isn’t quite sure what shape it will take. For now it’s a take-out sandwich counter and a caterer with the option for a couple of customers to stay for a sit-down snack or a dark, smooth, smoky cup of “El Cubanito” coffee. The service is as warm as the sun on a Veradero beach and it is apparent that Guerra is passionate about his native cuisine. Still, I feel obliged to point out that few visitors to Cuba would claim they go for the food. Don’t make the mistake of expecting something like Mexican or Caribbean flavours. Instead you’ll find traditional, homemade Cuban food that favours simple fresh ingredients and what Hughes calls “soft seasoning.”

The Dish: There are a few daily specials but you cannot go wrong with the classic “El Cubano,” a thin cutlet of roast pork layered with ham, Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard on a crunchy pressed white bun. The first bite might strike you as a little ho-hum, but if you’re like me, this sandwich will grow on you and become more addictive with each bite. Do not miss the excellent lemonade made with lime and mint — it’s fabulous.

The Cost: Sandwiches: an unbelievable $5 (add a salad or side of fat crunchy yuca fries or tostones — fried green plantains — for $2)

Havana Café and Catering, 1200 Bank St., 613-733-1200.

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