In the beginning, there was speculation about the name of Alberto Cabrera’s Cuban Gastro Counter, Bread + Butter, which opened last year in Coral Gables. People wondered if the simple name was a euphemism for the humble but delicious Cuban fare he’d be serving. Or if it represented the highly addictive opening course present at any self-respecting Cuban joint: pressed and toasted bread slices slathered with melted butter. But as it often happens in life, the truth is better than anything our imaginations might conjure up. “Bread and butter in Spanish is pan con mante-quilla,” the Miami-born Cabrera, 38, said. “And that was my nickname growing up. I got it when I was about 8 years old, when my parents took me to Cuba to visit my aunt in San Antonio de los Baños. Every day, I’d wake up and find a big loaf of Cuban bread on the kitchen counter and I’d eat just about the entire thing with butter spread over it. From then on, I was pan con mantequilla.”
The naming of his restaurant may be rooted in good-natured familial goofing, but know this for sure: Cabrera’s cooking is rooted in something much deeper. A little more than a year ago, when he was thinking about what kind of restaurant to open, his father was at home in South Miami-Dade with a life-threatening heart condition that had left him unable to work. Cabrera’s wife was pregnant with their third child. “And I was a big bowl of emotions,” he recalled. “I kept thinking, I just want to open a place where I can take my old man, get him out of the house, have him sit and tell stories. I wanted it to be a place he could relate to, that we could share.”
When he found the Coral Gables location where Bread + Butter now stands, Cabrera knew it was perfect. It would take months to complete the design he describes as “hip Williamsburg meets old Cuba,” to gather the lovely, little nostalgic touches he wanted on hand (tin can water cups, a fresh Cuban oregano plant on a shelf, vintage black-and-white images of the Cuba that now only exists in memories) and to develop a menu that “brought back dishes that have gotten lost.” Consider it heirloom Cuban cooking. Chilindrón de chivo. Homemade butifarras. Plátanos en tentación. But like any experienced chef—before Bread + Butter, Cabrera worked at Robbin Haas' Chispa and the Miami outpost of La Broche, Madrid’s famed haute cooking emporium, both now shuttered—he also wanted to do his share of updating. “I wanted to make dishes that were familiar, just better executed,” he said. While he’s done that and more, it’s been a bittersweet ride. Just a month and a half before the restaurant opened, Cabrera’s father passed away. “He got to see it as we were building, and he saw the menu, but he never got to see us open,” Cabrera said. “That’s okay, though, because I know it means he’s looking over what we’re doing.”
See Chef Alberto Cabrera at Botran’s Medianoches & Mixology, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday, Feb. 22 at Wynwood Walls in Miami.