“The culinary traditions of Cuba are a delight to the tongue, but they also offer an intriguing glimpse into a culture that has brought together many varied elements to form a cohesive whole.” – Chet Day

I was first introduced to authentic Cuban cuisine by a colleague of mine and his wife, Bruce and Pat Rowan, while we lived and worked in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Pat’s parents, Dario and Hilda Gonzalez left Cuba in the first year of Castro’s revolution and lived with Bruce and Pat. It was music to my palate, being invited to their home for Cuban roast pork, black beans, and rice – recipes the Gonzalez’s brought from Cuba.

Although they shared the recipes, mine just never tasted the same. Perhaps it was the stories and cultural insight that enhanced the flavor. I miss the food and their friendship. I never thought I would regain what I left behind. But “never” is a word best used cautiously.

I never thought I would find authentic Cuban food in North Central West Virginia. I was wrong. For weeks I drove by a restaurant in the East View section of Clarksburg. The sign simply said, “A Taste of Cuba.” One day, my curiosity took over and I stopped and introduced myself. The young woman behind the counter, with the engaging smile said, “Welcome. I’m Marisol Perez. This is my restaurant.”

At that time, I was the only patron so I took the opportunity to ask questions about the restaurant and the menu. Marisol told me her father was from Cuba and her mother from Puerto Rico. She said, “I prepare the food myself from family recipes.” I was intrigued. When she said her parents lived in Chicago but were coming for a visit, I asked her if we could meet and talk – talk about Cuban food, culture, and hopefully a bit of politics. Cuba has always fascinated me.

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A week later, we met and Marisol introduced me to her father Jorge, her mother Carmen, and her son Andrew. I found myself captivated talking with Jorge. He was born in Matanzas, east of Havana. A staunch critic of Castro’s regime, he was once jailed as a political prisoner, released in 1977, and came to the United States in 1978, settling in Miami for a brief time. In 1980 he went to Chicago and for a time, worked for the U.S Postal Department. Later, he began working for the Chicago Transit Authority, which turned into a 26-year career.

Jorge and I talked politics and I could not ask questions quickly enough. He openly expressed his opinions and shared stories about Fidel Castro and his brother Raul. I sat there with my mouth (probably) open, when he talked about the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara – Guevara’s time in Argentina, Angola, and finally in Bolivia, where Guevara was executed. This was history at its best – for me.

Then my attention turned to Carmen, Marisol’s mother. Carmen was born in Dorado, Puerto Rico, coming to Chicago in the late 1970’s. It was there, in 1980, she met Jorge. They were married a year later. And in the following years, they raised seven children. Like Jorge, Carmen made the most of the American opportunity. She was a social worker, worked for the Chicago Board of Examiners, and retired from their Human Resource Department (Compliance Division). A 31-year career.

Although fascinated with their stories, I needed to turn my attention to Cuban cuisine, and especially “A Taste of Cuba.” Marisol told me she and her husband found their way to Clarksburg via the oil and gas industry. Opening a restaurant came by way of Marisol’s desire to have a catering business. She shared some of her Cuban delights with Steve Rogers of Rogers and Mazza Bakery. Steve’s reaction was, “Forget catering. You need to open a restaurant.”

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Steve offered Marisol space in one end of his bakery. And on December 14, 2015, A Taste of Cuba opened its doors, offering authentic Cuban cuisine. Marisol’s vision is to keep the menu simple. She prides herself on staying true to her family recipes which feature several Cuban sandwiches including but not limited to Jorge’s legendary Hot Cuban Sandwich, Barbacoa Pork Sandwich, Arroz con Frijoles (Rice & Beans), Cuban dip, sides, a Cuban-type pizza and fried plantains. To Americans, plantains look like very large bananas.

In the near future, with Jorge and Carmen’s guidance, Marisol hopes to include Pollo con Arroz (Chicken with Rice) and Shrimp Ceviche (shrimp marinated in lime juice and spices). But, for the moment, her vision is to move slowly, be true to her family recipes, and introduce North Central West Virginia to “A Taste of Cuba.”

If you are looking for a little culinary diversity, stop by A Taste of Cuba, located at 624 Philippi Pike, East View, Clarksburg, West Virginia. Marisol’s daily specials are creative, so it is best to call 304-622-6683 to see what she is preparing. And, if you are very lucky, and happen to run into Jorge and Carmen, you can add a very enlightening history lesson to your Hot Cuban Sandwich. On the other side, Rogers & Mazza’s Bakery provides the best Italy has to offer.

Mention my name. You won’t get a discount, but I bet you will get a big smile.

Hasta la proxima,

Michael

Photos:

  1. Marisol with her family, Jorge (father), Carmen (mother), Andrew (son)
  2. American flag
  3. Cuban flag
  4. Steve Rogers of Rogers and Mazza Bakery