Pictured is a Classic Cubano sandwich and Nali Te, a refrigerator… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
Every once in a while, you come across a restaurant that has distinctive, well-prepared food at sensible prices. Havana Road in Towson is such a spot; it is a find.
Situated in a storefront in on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Towson, Havana Road is small — about 30 seats — and serves only Cuban fare. But what it does with a limited menu, it does exceptionally well.
Take, for example, the hummus trio ($6), an offering of black bean hummus, red hummus made with sun-dried tomatoes and hummus made with Cuban spices. Each was exceptionally fresh and appealing. The other evening, our party of three kept dipping into the appetizing trio with slices of Cuban bread, voting for our favorite. The vote ended in a three-way tie.
Another stellar appetizer was the Tostones with Mojo ($3.50), or fried plantain slices served with a garlic and sour-orange mojo sauce. Served warm, these plantains were savory. When partnered with the mojo sauce, the dish was outstanding — a combination of pleasing texture and vivid flavors.
Havana Road is a family operation. The kitchen is overseen by Marta Ines Quintana, the restaurant's principal owner and a native of Cuba who, as girl, fled the country in the 1960s. Her family's recipes and cooking style — layers of taste and slow-roasted dishes — came with them. Quintana's daughter, Ines Maria, makes the desserts, and her mother, Martha, another native of Cuba, oversees the recipes. Other partners in the venture are Alan Manfredonia and Michael Storey, whose son, Jesse, works as the restaurant's manager.
The entrees were as winning as the appetizers. The Santa Clara Lechon Asado ($13), slow-roasted pork braised in white wine, was extraordinary. The shredded pork was moist and had faint vinegary note, perhaps from the white wine. What a dish!
The Cuban chicken fricassee ($13) was another keeper. The chicken was seasoned with beer, garlic and roasted peppers, and served with capers. Chicken can be blah, but this bird bloomed with flavor.
The Cuban beef stew ($13.50), served only Thursday-Saturday, was a little short of beef but had terrific roasted vegetables and was served with more plantains. In this incarnation, the plantains were sweet, not savory.
The entrees were served with generous portions of black beans and rice. So often, black beans and rice end up mushy and dull. But here they were perfectly cooked.
Desserts were also well done. The coconut flan was excellent, but as a coconut lover, I could have used a stronger coconut note. So too with the mango flan — terrific flan, shy on the mango.
Mami's Hollywood rum cake ($6.50) was my favorite: a white cake with substantial crumb, a slightly sweet frosting, doused with rum. It was sweet without being cloying.
Havana Road does not have a liquor license. But — oh, happy day — there is package-goods store next door. For mojito, margarita and sangria lovers, it offers a selection of mixers ($2.50 a glass, $9 a pitcher), and the customers provide the hooch.
Service was attentive. The food arrived shortly after it was ordered. When there were leftovers, the server boxed them up in the kitchen rather than leaving that duty to the diners. A small touch, but a nice one.
Havana Road is full of such grace notes — as well as extraordinary food.
Where: 8 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
Contact: 410-494-8222 or havanaroad.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Credit Cards: Visa, Master Card, Discover
[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]