YBOR CITY — Juan Cabana estimates he’s knocked back about a million Cuban sandwiches in all his years.
OK, that number is probably a tad off, but who’s counting? The point is, in those 51 years, he hasn’t gotten sick of them yet.
“It’s hard to beat a Cuban sandwich, especially if it’s done right,” he said. “It’s a complete meal. It smells delicious, tastes delicious. I don’t ever get bored of it.”
The Tampa native, whose grandmother was from Cuba, was one of thousands who enjoyed the two-day Cuban Sandwich Festival, celebrating its third year Saturday and Sunday.
On Sunday, an 86.2-foot sandwich, billed as the world’s largest Cuban sandwich, was constructed inside the Hillsborough Community College Campus Plaza in Ybor City. And, of course, it was traditional: Cuban bread made here, sweet ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.
The record-setting Cuban, which beat Miami’s 75-foot effort earlier this year, was donated to a local charity to give to the area’s homeless.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Cabana said. “They get a lot of the community to show up and have fun, and at the same time they’re able to help the homeless and the hungry. It shows Cuban culture at its best.”
The sandwich, which started off as nearly 87 feet of Cuban bread laid atop a series of banquet tables, was assembled by teams from the Columbia Restaurant, Country Market & Deli, Danny’s All American Diner, Dulce Cafe Bakery, La Teresita and Stone Soup Company.
The festival not only gives Tampa bragging rights against Miami in the Cuban sandwich-making realm, it lets one area restaurant take home the title of having the best Cuban sandwich. And it’s a fundraising opportunity.
“She is a miracle,” Padilla said Sunday.
The condition leaves an opening, allowing the stomach and intestines to move into the chest cavity, encroaching on the lungs and heart. It can lead to breathing issues.
Proceeds will go to Emberlynn’s medical care.
What started as a natural way to help his family — Victor Padilla’s grandmother ran several restaurants in Tampa and her signature dish was the Cuban sandwich — has become known well beyond Florida’s borders.
Word has spread as far away as Spain, and people from Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina have participated in the event, Padilla said.
“This has been overwhelming and a blessing,” Padilla said. “I love my city of Tampa, and the people here are just incredible. ”
This year, Stone Soup Company won the title of best traditional Cuban sandwich. Ilya Goldberg said this is just the third year his 4-year-old restaurant has dabbled in making Cuban sandwiches.
“The very first year, people kept asking us (to make a Cuban sandwich),” he said. “We said out of respect for the forefathers on the street we’re on (Seventh Avenue in Ybor City), we’re not going to do it.”
After doing some serious research on the history and ingredients of the sandwich, Stone Soup joined the fray.
It has worked out well, considering the restaurant was the runner-up in 2012 and won in the People’s Choice category last year.
“Here you have the beginning, the sandwich really started there and … here we are, the new kids on the block,” Goldberg said. “This is Tampa.”