Cafe Cello Still Serves Amazing Pork (and Possibly My Favorite Cuban Sandwich in Midtown)
When I started working near 46th Street and 6th Avenue, I had no idea that I was just down the block from Midtown Lunch royalty. Zach first wrote about Cafe Cello in July 2006 and loved the roast pork so much, it’s been the Midtown Lunch food logo ever since (on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc.) I didn’t know any of that when a co-worker brought in their cubano sandwich and left me with a case of lunch envy. I knew I can’t be the only one who has forgotten about this place, so I decided a thorough re-investigation was in order… you know, for science.
After seeing my friend’s cubano, I knew it was the first thing I had to try. When I ordered, it became apparent that I was in for something wonderful. First, I was shocked to see them shred off what looked like nearly a platter’s worth of pork and take it to the griddle. It was also interesting to see the use of pickle chunks instead of the thin, flat slices. Finally, it’s worth noting that they toast the bread on the griddle instead of pressing the whole sandwich after it’s assembled.
The sandwich is fat and overflowing, with generous helpings of pork, ham and cheese and a nicely satisfying sour crunch from the pickles. The bread is crisp on the inside, but not so flattened that it falls apart on you. Honestly, I can’t think of a better cubano that I’ve ever had – and yes, I’ve tried the one at Margon.
The roast pork on its own is a pretty amazing thing. The serving is generous, the pork moist and rich and I’m happy to report they still lay that nice, crackly piece of skin over the top for you to gnaw on. Since I’ve started going, the guy behind the counter has come to expect my request for extra skin and now he just gives me bigger pieces all the time.
On Thursdays, I break from the porkfest and get the weekly special of tripe stew. Most people have a pretty solid stance on tripe, so I’m not trying to convert anyone. Still, the slightly chewy give, not as firm as calamari, but deeply satisfying hits the spot for me every time. It’s even better once the sauces and rice are mixed together for a meal so warm and filling, I walk out the house on a rainy day looking forward to lunchtime.
Between the pork and tripe, I get too distracted to try too many other dishes, but one week, I did check out the beef stew. It was fine, but nothing to right home about. The flavors were all there, but the beef was a little dried inside and nothing about it got me particularly excited.
I’m not even remotely Catholic, but the fried bluefish looks like it could be a nice fish Friday lunch for those practicing lent.
If I have any complaint about Cello, it’s that the plantains sort of suck. Not ripe enough to be maduros, but not green enough to be tostones, they aren’t sweet or salty and they have the texture of cardboard. They’re a miss, but I can never actually bring myself to tell them not to give me any.
There’s plenty of other options that I always consider – including the fried chicken – that never quite catch my attention enough to try instead of my usual favorites, but they do look pretty tasty and are worth exploring.
Just as Zach pointed out all those years ago, you can walk by Cello a million times and assume it’s another generic low-end deli, but you’d be cheating yourself out of some of the best pork in town.
Cafe Cello, 48 w. 46th Street, 212-764-8701