Our original plan was to have lunch somewhere after checking out of our Tampa hotel, then to visit another nearby local landmark, La Segunda Central Bakery, to get some pastries and possibly sandwiches to go, before driving back to Orlando. But when we woke up, my wife was hungry, ready to get home sooner, and didn’t want to wait for most restaurants to open at 11. We decided to go straight to La Segunda and then take off, and to save other restaurants for other trips, when we have more time and could make plans with local friends.
We easily found La Segunda Central Bakery (https://www.lasegundabakery.com/), but what I didn’t realize was that it was just a takeout operation with no dine-in seating. They have a second location that is more of a cafe setup, but leave it to me to want to visit the original. We are already huge fans of Tampa’s other historic bakery, Alessi (http://www.alessibakery.com/), which was founded in 1912. La Segunda had been described as very similar, and it was founded in 1915. I wanted to compare the legendary bakeries, and I can safely say they are both great, and if you like one, you’ll certainly like the other and ought to give it a chance too.
Since they didn’t have tables, we just decided to get stuff to go, and to have a mini-picnic in the car on our way out of town. My wife ordered buttered Cuban toast with a side of crispy bacon, made on the absolutely gigantic loaves of Cuban bread people were carrying out by the armful. These loaves were several feet long; my wife is five feet tall, and they very well could have been her height! La Segunda’s website purports to be “the world’s largest producer of authentic Cuban bread,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true. We were both a little distracted by sensory overload in that bakery, and it didn’t occur to me to order one of those giant loaves to go. Oh well, another time. I grew up in Miami, so I’ve had A LOT of Cuban bread. It’s great the first day, but by the second day, Harley Quinn cosplayers could definitely use it as a prop baseball bat. But I digress!
I don’t eat breakfast and don’t like to eat a heavy meal before a long drive, so I just ordered stuff to enjoy later on. I ordered two of La Segunda’s sandwiches: the Medianoche and the Patrinostro. Growing up in Miami, my typically non-adventurous family loved Cuban food, and we had some of the best Cuban food in the country to choose from, all within a small radius of our suburban home. My mom instilled in me a love of the medianoche (midnight) sandwich over the traditional Cuban sandwich, and I stand by it to this day. Both contain the same ingredients: roast pork marinated in mojo criollo (with onion, garlic, and sour orange juice), sweet sliced ham, swiss cheese, mustard (typically yellow mustard, one of the only times this mustard aficionado is A-OK with the plain yellow stuff), and sliced pickles. I’m trying to make myself like pickles more, but one of the rare times I’ve always been a fan is on medianoche and Cuban sandwiches.
Anyway, whether you get the sandwich on Cuban bread or the sweet, yellow medianoche roll (similar to challah), it is then pressed flat (sometimes buttered first), to warm the ingredients, melt the cheese, and get the bread super-crispy. Miami people may recoil in shock and disappointment (and I know my best friend will be pissed), but I actually love the Tampa version of these sandwiches. Due to the Italian influence, Tampa Cubans and medianoches also include genoa salami with the roast pork and sweet, smoky ham, and one could argue that anything with genoa salami is better than the same thing without. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! And when I finally tried it at home, it was an excellent example of a medianoche. Perfect confluence of ingredients on that wonderful sweet, crispy-yet-yielding yellow bread. La Segunda advertises a “special sauce” instead of mustard. I couldn’t pick up on what it was (probably a remoulade or some kind of Mustardayonnaise), but it was a great sandwich regardless.
And since I had to experience La Segunda’s Cuban bread for myself, my second sandwich order was the Patrinostro, an Italian sandwich with ham, capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone cheese, onions, oil, and vinegar. I asked for it hot because I wanted the pressed Cuban bread, and asked them to leave the lettuce and tomatoes off, since I wouldn’t be eating it for two hours and didn’t want them to get slimy on a hot sandwich. I was conflicted, because I don’t like my Italian cured meats hot, but everything was still delicious by the time we got home, and the bread was still crispy. It looked naked without the lettuce and tomatoes, so I added my own tomatoes, as well as hot cherry pepper relish and a drizzle of balsamic glaze at home. It was good, but it would have been better fully dressed and eaten immediately, with cold ingredients served on bread that had already been pressed and warmed by itself.
I also ordered two slices of scachatta, which I was delighted to see at La Segunda. I first read about scachatta on Saveur’s website years ago, a pizza-like bread served only at Tampa’s historic Italian-influenced Cuban bakeries. It is served cold or at room temperature on soft bread tinted yellow by egg yolks, with a savory-sweet tomato sauce containing very finely-ground beef, and no cheese melted on top like any pizza you’re envisioning. Alessi’s scachatta has a dusting of parmesan like the lightest snowfall, and La Segunda’s didn’t seem to have any cheese at all. It might sound weird, and if you’re expecting traditional pizza, you may be a little disappointed. But think of it as its own delicious hybrid and give it a fair chance. I love the stuff and wish I could get it anywhere in Orlando, but maybe that’s for the best. I can’t tell you whose scachatta is better, but they are both damn fine.
My wife also ordered a selection of cookies that were weighed by the pound. I think of them as “tea cookies” — little things with sprinkles and powdered sugar coatings and shaped liked red and green leaves. Bakeries of my Miami youth used to carry those, and my mom loved them too. They have never really been my thing — if I’m going to eat a cookie, I want it to be soft and chewy… or an Oreo in their latest weird flavors.
I couldn’t leave this beautiful bakery without getting myself something sweet too, so I gambled and chose a little square of pineapple crumb cake, since I love anything pineappley, as well as crumb cake. When I finally got home and tried it, it was superb. Moist, rich cake with the most delicious sticky-sweet pineapple glaze and streusel-esque topping. It only cost $1.95, and it put any of the extravagant, expensive, and somewhat disappointing desserts from Bern’s to shame.
So La Segunda was awesome. Would I go back? Honestly, I think we’d probably return to Alessi Bakery instead, where you can at least sit down and eat a meal. But everything we tried was just as good here, don’t get me wrong.