These are subtle variations on basic themes. Like many Miami Cuban eateries, Islas Canarias serves ajiaco — a boiled dinner of meats, Caribbean tubers, plantain and corn — on Mondays, following an old Cuban practice begun by a president who urged the citizens to consume Cuban produce at least once a week.
Side dishes are the traditional plantains and root vegetables, what Cubans call viandas, and other staples, like bean soups and rice. “All the viandas we serve here are fresh,” Vindell says.
I visited the kitchen, and, indeed, everything was fresh and homemade, including the malanga (taro) Vindell was boiling to make a popular cream soup and the plantains he was frying to later crumble into the pork-crackling-spiked mash called fufú.
There are Spanish-Cuban dishes, true to the roots of Cubans who, like me, are only a couple of generations away from Spanish immigrants to the island. Fabada, with broad beans and blood sausage; cocido, with chickpeas and cured meats; and caldo gallego, with white beans and greens, are regular specials, along with porrusalda (leek soup) and garbanzos fried with chorizo and green pepper. (Sebastian reveals a trick he learned from his cooks: Go easy on the green pepper, something many Cubans overdo, because it makes dishes too sweet.)
There are typical Cuban desserts, as well as Nicaraguan tres leches, which has become part of the Miami Cuban menu. And for those who come seeking coffee-shop fare, the Islas Canarias croquetas are legendary, as is its Cuban sandwich.
Except for a handful of items, including a Venezuelan plantain empanada stuffed with mozzarella, Islas Canarias has remained faithful to its Cuban roots. Chef Vindell is Nicaraguan and butcher Natalio, the oldest Islas Canarias staffer, is Puerto Rican, so it’s not solely in the blood. It’s in the tradition.
As our city hurls toward the future at a dizzying speed, and the culinary world rushes to venerate the new new thing, it’s comforting to see a family put on the brakes and, in doing so, succeed.
Enrique Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.