Tampaversary Part 2: La Segunda Central Bakery

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.

DSC01716.JPG

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.

DSC01715

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.

DSC01714

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.

DSC01711

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.

DSC01713

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.

Pizza Bruno

Okay, it has been far too long.  I had a big work project to complete in September, with my continued employment and entire career at stake, but I got that done.  I promise I’ll never leave you again!

This morning my wife and I returned to one of our favorite new discoveries of 2018, Pizza Bruno, a small, hip restaurant out on Curry Ford Road.  (http://www.pizzabrunofl.com/)  I have been a fan of the chef/owner, Bruno Zacchini, for years — ever since he used to set up a food cart, Big Bruno’s Bites, in front of the old Redlight Redlight bar on Bennett and Colonial, where one of my other favorite newer restaurants, Blue Jacket Grille (see my review here), is now.  After a stint as chef at the lost and lamented Oblivion Taproom on Colonial, Chef Bruno opened his own pizzeria, and it is one of Orlando’s best.

In addition to dinner, they open at 11 AM on weekends to serve their regular menu plus some brunch specialties, and starting TOMORROW, October 8th, they will start serving LUNCH!  That will be a game changer for me, since Pizza Bruno is a lot closer to work than it is to home.  I can’t wait.

But today, my wife and I treated ourselves.  We arrived shortly after they opened at 11 AM, and we HAD to order the garlic knots, which are the absolute best garlic knots ever.  With all the work stress I’ve been dealing with over the last two months, I’ve been craving garlic bread constantly, as a comfort food.  I won’t tell you how many frozen loaves of garlic bread I’ve baked at home, or how many of them have been disappointing and made me feel a lot worse about myself afterwards.  (Spoiler alert: almost all of them.)

Bruno’s “Too Much Garlic” knots are on a whole other level.  They’re not soaked through with oil, but they are the absolute perfect consistency — appropriately soft, with the slightest crispy exterior.  The garlic topping needs to be bottled and sold in supermarkets, and the cup of marinara sauce is an underrated complement.  A word of warning to the Saboscrivner Squad: Pizza Bruno often runs out of garlic knots in the evening, so if you go, go early so you don’t run the risk of missing out one of Orlando’s finest carbs.

DSC01691

As if that wasn’t enough, the brunch menu offered us a new option: the best knots in town, sans garlic, but covered with sticky cinnamon-sugar glaze and served with a thick, rich mascarpone cheese spread infused with orange.  Kind of like cinnamon rolls, only far better than Cinnabon.  Of course my wife and I accepted the challenge to compare these cinnamon-sugar knots to our favorite garlic knots.  Needless to say, they were great, and the citrusy mascarpone amazed and astonished.

DSC01694

Believe it or not, I eat salads quite often at home, and I pack them in my work lunches quite frequently.  But my wife NEVER wants a salad when I offer to make her one.  Who here knows the Steely Dan song “FM (No Static At All),” in which Donald Fagen sings “No static at all”?  Well, we sing “No salad at all” to the same tune, knowing that she will never ask me for one.  But at Pizza Bruno, they serve a kale salad she absolutely loves, with golden raisins, candied pecans, pecorino romano cheese, and emperor dressing (their version of Caesar dressing), so she got another one of those today.  I’m not the biggest kale fan in the world, but it’s a very good salad.  It just comes in a tiny wooden bowl despite being quite large, so some spillage is unavoidable.

DSC01693

 

Bruno’s pizzas are twelve inches in diameter, cut into six slices, and are a relatively thin-crust, Neapolitan style.  They aren’t as crispy or large as New York-style pizzas, but the crust is much softer than you’d get at a place like Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, which is served with burnt spots.  In the past, I’ve ordered the New Haven-style clam pizza, but they didn’t have it as an option today due to a clam shortage.  This is a picture of the clam pizza from a previous visit:

thumbnail_20180518_173919_resized

Today I got the “Tight Socks” pizza, with red sauce, mozzarella, good quality pepperoni, emperor dressing (very subtle), and fresh Thai basil leaves on top.  It was great, as always.

DSC01695

My wife ordered a newer pizza off the brunch menu, although it is apparently available for dinner as well.  The G&B is a white pizza (which is great for my wife, who doesn’t love tomato-based sauces the way I do), with fresh mozzarella,  guanciale (one of my favorite cured meats, made from the jowl of a pig, then fried up crispy like very posh bacon), blueberries, and a drizzle of real maple syrup across the top.  It might sound like a desserty thing, but it is much more savory than sweet due to the rich, crunchy saltiness of the guanciale and the tartness of the juicy blueberries.  She loved it.  I had a piece too, and it was terrific.

DSC01696

As you might expect, we ended up with a lot of leftovers, which is totally fine with us.  I cannot recommend Pizza Bruno highly enough.  As much as New York-style and Sicilian-style pizzas are close to my heart, since that’s what I grew up eating in Miami with my Brooklyn-raised dad, I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to call Pizza Bruno the best pizzeria in Orlando, with its creative Neapolitan-style pies, incredible knots, and wonderful service.  I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to our server Frankie, who was a delight — enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly, patient, and an overall good time.  Thank you, Frankie, for making our day!

DSC01698