The only time I have ever had Cuban food is when my friend Martha made black beans and yucca. This dish set the bar so high that I can’t eat black beans or yucca without feeling a pang of disappointment. So when Harry and I were in New Jersey looking for a place to eat, I made an executive decision that Cuban was the way to go (I was right… I love when that happens).
Casual Habana Cafe received high ratings during my online search. I was also near National Wholesale Liquidator, a store we frequent for its International cuisine floor and its bargain basement. This restaurant is in the town of Hackensack. We did not have time to wander the town this trip however, we did see many small shops. There is also a bigger area with a large number of major stores not too far from this town called Harmon Meadow… I tell you this if you want to make a day of it.
I ordered Cazuela De Moriscos Con Harina, a dish recommended more than once in the reviews. It is a seafood polenta stew (shrimp, calamari, mussels and cockles in Criollo Sauce over creamy polenta) served in a small pot. It looks as good as it tastes. The tomato base, coupled with a slight heat and exquisite combination of just the right ingredients was spectacular. Underneath all the seafood is a layer of polenta saturated in that delicious sauce.
I ordered steamed yucca which I submerged in the sauce (like dipping Italian bread into tomato sauce – it just had to be done). Two side dishes were offered so I also ordered sweet plantains and ate them for dessert. Harry ordered a Cubano sandwich (cumin scented roast pork ham, swiss cheese, pickles and garlic mojo). It came with plantain chips. Unfortunately he launched into the sandwich before I could take a picture. (he’s fast when he’s hungry).
After lunch, I was in the mood for coffee. I have to admit I was not expecting much. I figured it would be a mediocre cup of American-type coffee. It turns out this café is serious competition for Starbucks, with a latte that packs a caffeine punch while maintaining steamy, silky goodness.
The decor was welcoming and warm with paintings that reflected Cuban culture. Around the periphery hung portraits ( a grandmother, a young woman sitting on a car, a birthday party) transporting me into the life of each subject and leaving me to reflect further about the event represented in each scene.
No reservation needed for lunch but I hear it can get crowded after 6pm. We will be back. This was some good eats in a lovely setting with staff that were as warm and welcoming as the food and atmosphere.