Sarussi’s Secret Sauce Keeps Sandwiches Selling
In Miami, there are very little variations of the Cuban sandwich. It’s pretty much ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles stuffed between two slices of buttered Cuban bread and heated in a Panini-like machine called la plancha.
However, in Tampa, where Cubans settled in the late 1800s, the Cuban sandwich is served with Salami because there was also a significant Italian immigrant community there at the time.
Although our Cuban sandwiches don’t come with salami, we do have our own Italian variation of the Cuban sandwich in Miami.
It comes with mozzarella cheese instead of Swiss. And instead of being cooked in la plancha, it is baked in a pizza oven on a homemade ciabatta-like loaf.
And instead of mustard, a savory tomato-based sauce – a famous secret sauce - is spread on the inside once its done baking. And it’s all topped off with a garlicky butter brushed on top of the bread.
You can indulge in this delicacy at Sarussi Café and Restaurant, which has been serving this variation of the Cuban sandwich since the early 1960s.
Different Owners, Same Recipe
The restaurant has changed owners several times since then, but the name and recipe has remained the same.
In fact, for years, the sign outside proudly stated that it served “lo major sandwich en Miami” (the best sandwich in Miami).
The original owner was a man named Edmond Sarussi who passed away in 1973 at the age of 61, according to records.
The current owner of Sarussi’s is a Venezuelan woman of Russian descent named Tatiana Prokopovich. She doesn’t know much about the original owner but believes he was Cuban of Italian descent.
But that may be more folklore than reality because as Italian or Cuban as it may sound, Sarussi appears to be more of a Jewish name.
Either way, Edmond Sarussi was running an Italian restaurant complete with pizza and pasta when one of his workers recommended he start selling Cuban sandwiches, according to Prokopovich.
This was in the early 1960s when thousands of Cubans were emigrating to Miami in the wake of Fidel Castro’s seize of power.
Because he already had the pizza ovens, he came up with his own variation of the sandwich, which became an instant hit.
“After a while, he stopped selling pizza and pasta because all everybody wanted were the sandwiches,” said Prokopovich.
Top Secret Sauce
Despite my urging, Prokopovich refused to reveal the ingredients of the Sarussi secret sauce. All she would say is that it contains pickles, which is not something you think of when you taste it. As nice as she is, she was probably trying to mislead me.
I’ve been eating the sandwich for decades – way before she became owner - and I’ve determined that it contains garlic, mojo (Cuban citrus-garlic marinade), maybe some Tabasco … oh hell, I don’t know. All I know is that it complements the sandwich perfectly.
While Sarussi sells various sandwiches that includes the sauce and all the works, including steak, chicken and pork, the thing to do here is stick with el original. You can never go wrong with the original.
You may even want to ask for a little extra sauce on the side, as many of us locals do.
Unlike many Cuban joints in Miami, Sarussi slices the ham extremely thin, which I believe enhances the flavor of the sandwich by providing an overall balance, rather than let the ham overpower the sandwich.
But just because the ham is sliced thin doesn’t mean they’re skimping. The 16-inch sandwich comes with 20 slices of ham, 15 slices of roast pork, eight slices of mozzarella cheese and six slices of pickles. All this for $9.99. Of course you could feed two or three people with it. I remember when those sandwiches were five bucks.
The original location still resides on Eight Street just west of 67th Avenue but they have since opened three in Hialeah and one by Florida International University’s south campus.
And next month, Prokopovich plans on opening a new location in West Palm Beach.
I asked her why not open one up on South Beach, which will be sure to be a hit, especially if she decides to keep it open 24 hours-a-day.
“That would be a good location but we would need to buy a place that is already a cafeteria (in the Cuban sense, not American sense) because otherwise it would be too expensive to set it up,” she said.
In the meantime, it is worth a drive off the beach to the mainland because not only would you experience a sense of Miami culture, but history as well.
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"Sarussi’s Secret Sauce Keeps Sandwiches Selling"