Once upon a time there was a wonderful Puerto Rican restaurant called Miami Cafe Xpress, located inside the Riverchase car wash in Hoover. Our Graveyard page includes our original post, and recalls:
“Miami Cafe Express, we loved your chicken stew and sweet plantains, and the sound of the carwash announcer in the background as we ate your food. Alas, according to your Facebook page, a landlord dispute caused you to close. However, you are in some sort of state suspended halfway between being a restaurant and being a fond memory, as your Facebook page also indicates that you still exist in the form of a catering company. Miami Cafe Express the Restaurant, we bid you aideu. RIP.”
For some nostalgia, here’s the old carwash location:
At the time, Miami Cafe Xpresswas the only Puerto Rican restaurant in Birmingham. Its closure left a big hole in the Birmingham food scene. Initially, there were rumors (mostly via the Miami Cafe Facebook page) that it might re-open. We were thrilled. And then the Facebook page went quiet. We lost hope.
About a year ago, suddenly, the Facebook page came back to life. We’ve been following the situation closely. Several months ago, they announced that a new restaurant was in the works, this time downtown. With pop-up (and soon to be brick-and-mortar) Tropicaleo’s recent success, it’s clear to us that Birmingham loves a good Cuban sandwich, mofongo, and Latin desserts. There couldn’t be a better time for Miami Cafe’s revival.
We watched as their new space on 5th Avenue N took shape. The sign went up, and on Facebook, tantalizing interior pictures were posted. Finally, they announced a low-key soft opening requiring a Facebook sign up. Of course, we had to go.
Mr. Foodie and I both took a few hours off of work for the occasion, that’s how excited we were. In all of our excitement, we forgot to take an exterior photo, but here’s one from their Facebook page. A cool art deco throwback:
The old version was Miami Cafe “Xpress.” The deletion of “Xpress” seemed to be a nod to the restaurant’s progression from a carwash to its own space. But the “Fusion”?
A look at the new menu explained it:
(Due to the excitement of the moment and the fact that the place was so packed we almost didn’t get in, we forgot to take a picture of the menu. We got this one from their Facebook page.)
We’ve done some Googling, and as far as we can tell, the CariMaki rolls were created by Miami Cafe and are what they sound like – sushi with Caribbean ingredients. We were glad to see that the rest of their menu contained the classic dishes we missed so much from Miami Cafe Xpress. For the benefit of reporting back to you, our loyal blog fans, we decided to go with the classics.
A quick note about the staff. In our experience, a restaurant’s opening day can be a harrowing experience for all involved. We noticed that Miami Cafe was extremely well-staffed; staff were doing a variety of tasks including ringing up customers, directing food traffic, making Cuban coffee (which was amazing), and checking on people. Despite the crowd, these folks were the most welcoming, nicest, friendliest people to ever work the opening day of a restaurant.
As we waited, the staff went around offering customers who had yet to receive their food samples of the CariMaki. (We were imagining that the sandwich guy or gal in the back was furiously making Cubans, while the poor CariMaki chef was twiddling his or her thumbs.) Here’s the Domi roll:
We had to admit that the reason we didn’t order the CariMaki was not only because it’s not a traditional “classic,” but also because we are always a bit skeptical of food mash-ups. But this one really worked. The sushi rice’s texture and flavor was spot-on, and the combination of the sushi form with the meat, cheese, and avocado you might expect to find in a sandwich somehow really worked. According to a recent article that mentions the restaurant’s impending opening, there’s a sushi chef working back there, which is not surprising given the quality. Although we didn’t get a chance to photograph it, we each had a piece of the veggie roll that was whisked by us – very simple, light, and fresh. Equally as good.
Next up, the Cuban sandwich. Delicious pork on what is described (and tasted like) fresh bread with all the fixins. The bread was crunchy, the cheese was melty, and the pork was tender and smoky. A great Cuban.
And then, the mofongo. Mr. Foodie and I spent several days in San Juan a few years ago, and I always say I have a love handle dedicated to mofongo. Mofongo is a dish that consists of a mound of fried mashed plantains, typically served with meat. We loved mofongo so much we actually took a mofongo making class, where we mashed the plantains ourselves in a traditional pilon (mortar and pestile), along with copious amounts of garlic and fat. In addition to the mofongo itself, one of the most vivid food memories we have of Puerto Rico is its pork. In a small town called Guavate, there’s actually a road called La Ruta del Lechon, or the Pork Highway, that is filled with stands serving pieces of whole roast pig. The pork we had on the Pork Highway serves as a very high bar for what Puerto Rican pork should taste like. So of course, we ordered the pork mofongo. Here it is in all its glory:
There are so many things I want to say about this mofongo. First, the plantains. The garlic flavor was strong but not overpowering, and mingled perfectly with what tasted to us like pork fat. The texture was amazing-a mixture of well-mashed and crunchy in every bite, but moist, not dry. Every time I put my fork down to take a break, it was like a magnetic force drew me back. And then there was the pork. Not only was it insanely tender, but its juices were flowing right into that already perfect mofongo, enhancing its flavor even more if that’s possible. We were having a foodgasmic experience. We would go out on a limb and say this is in our top 3 favorite pork dishes in the city of Birmingham. Those may be fighting words in a BBQ town, but we’re willing to risk it.
Here’s a close up of that pork. I mean, come on.
And finally, dessert. We have fond memories of the popular Miami Cafe Xpress dessert, the “Jesus cake.” With the whirr of the carwash in the background, I remember the owner telling us how it got its name – that customers exclaim “Oh Jesus!” when they eat it. In our original post, I wrote, “If you don’t find religion after you eat this, well, you probably won’t.” Here’s the Miami Fusion Cafe version:
Exactly as we remember it. A perfect tres leches cake – sweet, not one bit soggy, and absolutely delicious. We devoured it. They gave us a few extras to take home, which I brought to work with me the next day. It held up well in the fridge, and was a big hit.
To sum it up, Miami Fusion Cafe pays homage to the original Miami Cafe Xpress, minus the carwash, and plus some very inventive CariMaki rolls. It’s a great addition to the downtown breakfast and lunch scene.
Note: Miami Fusuin Cafe is located at 2015 5th Ave N. They are open M-F, 7am-10am for breakfast and 11am-3pm for lunch. It officially opens tomorrow.