Home Cuban Cafe opens in Old City: Cousins ​​bring family recipes to Philadelphia

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Just down the block from the longtime nightclub slash restaurant Cuba Libre, a less flashy version of Cuban cuisine is now available to Philadelphia residents.

Home Cuban Cafe occupies a modest corner space on one of the alleys between the Arch and Market streets and is like a Latin American taste of a delicacy that serves breakfast all day, coffee to order, freshly made croquettes and other Cuban staples – including some that are plant-based.

Opened in the former home of Fezziwig’s Sweet Shop at 17 N. 3rd St. in October, and the cafe is already attracting a number of regulars, said co-owner Danae Peraza.

“We really owe our success to the neighborhood. People have been really good to us since even before we opened. People came by, knocked on the door and asked what we were up to,” Peraza told Billy Penn. “Now our neighbors across the street and the people who work around here, our regulars and come in every day. “

Pereza, 33, runs the restaurant with her cousin, Dairys Mayoral, 42, who said she owned a Cuban restaurant in Naples, Florida, for 21 years before selling it this summer when her daughter planned to go to college in Philadelphia. The couple turns off kitchen tasks, with the occasional help of their mother, who traveled north with them.

“I think you could say cooking is in our family’s blood,” Pereza said. “Our grandfather was a baker in Cuba.”

A guava and cheese pastry at Home Cuban Cafe
Kimberly Paynter / WHY

The cousins ​​both immigrated to the United States from Cuba in their teens. The mayor came over with her parents during the height of the Cuban naval exodus in 1994, and Pereza’s family arrived in 2000 via a U.S. diversity visa lottery – a program she said her father had applied for every year since 1990.

Their Philly restaurant is inspired by their upbringing near Havana, which Pereza believes “resembles the old city.” Inside is both cozy and airy with individual leather chairs and coffee tables, exposed bricks and lots of green houseplants. Stepping inside feels a lot like stepping into someone else’s newly furnished house – which is the point, the cousins ​​said.

“From the beginning, the goal was to provide a sense of community and a sense of home,” Pereza said. “Dairys came up with the idea due to [Latino] culture, not just Cuban culture, is very family-oriented. “

The menu includes a variety of traditional Cuban dishes. Highlights include a classic Cubano sandwich, made with thick slices of sliced ​​bread, juicy cuts of ham and shredded pork; and the package of side dishes: tostones or crispy twice fried green banana and yuca con mojo, a root vegetable cooked and served with caramelized onions and a garlic sauce.

A half Cubano sandwich with ham and cheese and meat display and a small Cuban flag toothpick
Kimberly Paynter / WHY

Home Cuban Cafe also offers rotating lunch specials. There is usually a variety of marinated pork with congri or white rice and black beans in Cuban style, Mayoral said, because that is what customers like best. Most dishes can also be made vegan – a relatively unusual option, as much Cuban cooking revolves around pork.

Such small updates are especially important to Mayoral and Pereza, who described their clientele so far as a reflection of Old City: white and full of tourists. They have not yet welcomed many Latinos, let alone Cubans.

“We try to introduce society to our culture little by little because we first noticed that people around here did not really know what our food was,” Pereza said. “For example, people here did not know what yuca was, and that was new to us since we are from Florida. Everyone knows what yuca is over there.”

Center City has a shortage of authentic Cuban restaurants. Existing options mix Cuban food with dishes from all over Mexico, Latin America and the United States to create a pan-Latino style of cuisine – think Mixto, Bar Bonbon, Bodega Bar and Kitchen and even Cuba Libre.

Grandma's croquettes with garlic sauce at Home Cuban Cafe
Kimberly Paynter / WHY

Mayoral and Pereza said it has been difficult to find local suppliers for things they consider staples, like pastelitos (stuffed cakes) and croquettes (ham and cheese rolls coated in breadcrumbs). So the couple started making most of their baked goods internally using recipes from their grandmother.

“I would call supermarkets and see that they were selling Goya products, so I would think to myself ‘Oh, they need to know what croquettes are,'” Pereza said. “Then we would come there and say, ‘Do you have anything for croquettes?’ “And they would say, ‘Yes, we have tostones,’ which are not the same. So we ended up making the croquettes ourselves with a home recipe.”

The duo are already looking for expansion with plans for a sister restaurant to open in January 2022. Although the exact location is under wraps, it is set to become a seated BYOB in the Old City, drawing inspiration from Trinidad, a coastal town in Cuba known for its colorful architecture and lush tobacco fields.

It’s all part of the cousins’ grand plan, Mayoral said, “Open a restaurant, and then continue to grow Cuban roots in this community.”

A lunch special with grated beef, fried green tostones and ropa vieja at Home Cuban Cafe in Old City, Philadelphia
Kimberly Paynter / WHY
A Cubano at Home Cuban Cafe in Old City, Philadelphia
Kimberly Paynter / WHY
The Home Cuban Cafe owners and cousins, Danae Peraza (left) and Dairys Mayoral (right) behind the counter in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood
guava kage
Home Cuban Cafe in Old City, Philadelphia
Kimberly PKimberly Paynter / WHYYaynter / Billy Penn

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