BY KAREN PHILLIPS
Ididn’t speak English until I was five. My mom is from the Dominican Republic and my dad is from Peru, so for a time, Spanish was the only language spoken in my home.
Dinnertime with the family consisted more of rice than it did pasta. We enjoyed many meals with arroz con pollo or arroz y frijoles and platanos fritos, Every birthday, my mom would bake me a special Dominican cake with merengue icing, which tasted 10 times more moist than the traditional white cake.
When I moved away to college, I had to give up those home-cooked Hispanic meals. Plus, I don’t like to cook, and it’s hard to find a restaurant that specializes in Dominican, or even Latin American food.
Miami’s Café is a quaint little Cuban restaurant in Winston-Salem.
Of course famous for its Cuban sandwich, it has a few more traditional items on the menu, some pastries and fresh milkshakes. Everything is cooked to order.
I let a few people order ahead of me so that I could familiarize myself with the menu and all the ingredients. On an errand to pick up some lunch for my husband and father-in-law, I ordered them a Cuban and a Tripleta to share.
I wasn’t thrilled with the menu at first, and was about to settle for a sandwich when I saw a tray of food come out that I didn’t see on the menu. The woman behind the counter told me about the daily special: a chicken stew with rice and beans and a side of fried sweet plantains. Yes, please.
They had a list of fresh milkshakes, and one of the options was mamey. I asked the woman what mamey was, and she had trouble describing it because that is the name of the fruit. I ordered a mango shake to be safe.
Shakira videos were playing in the background that reminded me of my middle school days when my Aunt Jeannette lived with us for a couple of years. She taught me all the words to “Estoy Aqui,” and that video was playing while I waited for my food. As I sang along, I looked up at the counter and the woman who took my order was singing along too. We smiled.
While I was waiting, I researched mamey on my iPhone. I found the mamey is a tree native to parts of Mexico, Latin America and South America, and its fruit has been described as having a sweet potato, pumpkin, cherry, red raspberry taste.
About 20 minutes later, my to-go order was ready. Everything in the bag was hot and fresh, and my mango milkshake looked divine. My new friend gave me a sample of the mamey shake. I’m not sure if I tasted all the flavors it’s been compared to, or if I just thought I did, but it was subtle, sweet and delicious. It reminded me of sour sop, a fruit I tasted in Jamaica.
As I took the first sip of my milkshake, I felt like I was biting into a fresh mango. All I wanted do was keep drinking it, but I decided to ration it so that I wouldn’t run out. On my way back to High Point, I found myself thinking about the fact that I only bought one shake. Was I going to have to share it? Maybe I could find small cups and give Jason and Mark just a little bit so that they could experience how good it was, without drinking too much.
We sat down to eat together, and for the first time in a while, I felt like I was at a Hispanic dinner table again. The chicken stew was probably the best I’ve tasted, and the plantains hit a memorable sweet spot. The rice and beans, although not as good as my mom’s arroz y frijoles, were delicious enough to make me want to frequent Miami’s Café on a regular basis. Jason and Mark devoured the Cuban, but weren’t as fond of the Tripleta.
Miami’s Café is doing something right, because I’m extra excited to go home for the holidays this year. I’m preparing my meal requests as I type.
Miami’s Café; 2225 Old Salisbury Road, Winston-Salem, 27127; 336.788.9440; www.facebook.com/miamiscafe