This Hole-In-the-Wall Life
"There are no fucking Cubans in Anaheim!" I yelled when someone told me about CAFÉ CONTIGO, a just-opened Cuban coffeehouse right down the street from the shack where I grew up. It's the latest development in Anaheim's rapidly gentrifying original downtown (not that Platinum Triangle madness, but the area around Broadway Street and Anaheim Boulevard), an area where the businesses and bars of my youth are giving way to lofts, faux brownstones and other diversions for the gentry. Rant aside, it's true: I never met a Cuban in Anaheim—Puerto Ricans, sí, but not a coño. Immediately skeptical of Café Contigo, I enlisted Weekly editor Ted Kissell (who spent years in South Florida) and another caffeine-addicted pal to ascertain the establishment's worth.
"Ah, Estarbooks," Ted cracked when we visited. Café Contigo isn't some pastel-colored Miami simulacrum—it's airy, almost colonial, with hipsters connecting to the WiFi and large windows allowing folks to sit on ornate wooden chairs while meditating on some hot joe. The menu concentrates mostly on coffees and batidos (what Mexicans call licuados, and gabachos know as fruit smoothies), with pastries, snacks and sandwiches the only food items available. I don't drink coffee, so I asked Ted to order the two Cuban classics: a cortadito and a cafe con leche.
"Good cafe cubano, but I think they forgot the milk," Ted grumbled about the cortadito, which traditionally features an espresso shot mixed with cane sugar and cut with steamed milk. But I didn't care by that point: I was chomping on the Cuban sandwich, a glorious triangle of roasted pork, ham, cheese, mustard and judiciously placed pickles. A couple of minutes under an iron had compressed the sandwich until it was almost as flat as a magazine, transforming each bite into intense, crumbly goodness. Even better was the refugiado: sweet cheese and sweeter guava oozing out of a flaky pastry shell.
"I'm not ordering coffee today—I'm getting a batido," my other friend announced, and now it was I who grumbled.
"I can order a smoothie—I invited you to drink coffee!" I said, but he didn't care. He ordered a Pasion: two kinds of guavas mixed with passion fruit and ice. Tart, fresh and delicious, it went down well with his empanada de pollo. He even broke an idiotic self-prohibition against red meat and scarfed down a pastel de carne picada—ground beef seasoned with what tasted like cinammon and maybe a hint of cardammon.
"What's so wrong about seeing your old neighborhood become nicer?" my batido-loving traitor of a pal argued on the drive back to work. Ted nodded in agreement while sipping on a cafe con leche, which he described as "muy bueno." The two are right: Welcome to my neighborhood, Café Contigo—but if a guayabera shop opens nearby, I'm calling ICE.
CAFÉ CONTIGO, 327 S. ANAHEIM BLVD., STE. A, ANAHEIM, (714) 780-0242.
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