Several years ago we were introduced to the tradition of cigar rolling in Cuba, through Broadway’s production of Anna in the Tropics, a play by Nilo Cruz. Since then, even though we are not smokers, we have been curious about the attraction of Cuba, Cigars and Cognac, and their relationship to one another.
Our curiosity paid off in a big way, when we were invited to attend Havana Night, hosted by Azucar Cuban Restaurant in the upscale Newport area of Jersey City. Azucar is a closely guarded secret, as one of only five cigar bars operating in the Garden State.
If the name rings a bell, it’s because owner and Executive Chef, Nick Vazquez, had the dubious honor of beating Bobby Flay, last year, in a Throwdown featuring the Classic Cuban Sandwich. Check it out on YouTube.
Upstairs, in the loft area, we discovered a cache of overstuffed club chairs littered with contented cigar aficionados, tenderly savoring one of the many cigars featured off Azucar’s exclusive Cigar Menu. Further in, there was a small bar flanked by a few cognac connoisseurs readied for the supporting star of the Evening, Remy Martin. This cognac house has been in operation for three hundred years, enjoying brand recognition as the market leader for as many years. Pierre Bollet, Remy’s Brand Ambassador, introduced us all to one of their most popular products consumed by the US market: their VSOP (very special old pale) Cognac, which is a traditional, almost undeniable aromatic accompaniment to a fine after dinner cigar, indicative of powerful aroma and smooth taste.
He enlightened us with the historical backdrop to their newly released cognac, 1738. Apparently, in the eighteenth century, France was inundated with vineyards and new plantings were prohibited. King Louis XV, enamored with Remy Martin cognac, absolved them of adhering to the ban and allowed them to expand their vineyards exponentially. The year, 1738, of course!
This sensational cognac has subtle hints of chocolate, cinnamon, ginger, oak and lily of the valley, delivering a buttery mellowness not present in the VSOP. While debating with one another over our individual cognac preference, an Azucar server approached us with a tray mounded with their infamous freshly grilled and pressed, “El Grande”.
This crusty sandwich was loaded with fresh pork, Virginia ham, thinly sliced Kosher pickle, and mayo, smothered in melted Swiss. Unbelievable, how the flavor of the cognac, still on our palates, the aromatic cigar smoke, and this amazing cuisine married flavors!
A few minutes later, Nick entered the Cigar Lounge and made the rounds like the Host with the Most. To our surprise, he took a seat with us, and started sharing his philosophy about food, business, and life, as if we were neighbors from Mother Cuba. He reminisced about coming to this country as a young boy, and like many immigrants of his day, worked hard to achieve the ‘American Dream’ . He choked up a bit while talking about the influence of his Mother’s cooking on him. She sounded like an amazing woman, so we pressed for a favorite family recipe which we now share with you:
Make a blended paste to taste, of:
Massage vigorously into a 5-6lb pork shoulder, and then (the Secret!) encrust heavily with Sea Salt, roasting for 4 hours at 350 degrees.
The salted rind peels off after roasting, so no worries. Nick promises the moistest pork you will ever experience, ‘Comer bien’!
Azucar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars
495 Washington Blvd.
Jersey City, NJ 07310
Phone# (201) 222-0090
Wayne and Anne Galya have found the recipe for a long and happy marriage…sharing a common interest, which in this case happens to be All Things Food. They began their early days exploring cookbooks and attempting to replicate the recipes in their tiny apartment kitchen (kind of like Julie’s in Julie & Julia). Date nights were visiting strategically chosen restaurants. Here they would sample, savor and critique what they each experienced. Turned out this is what they love to do best! So much so, that in retirement, their calendar is filled with proposed visits to ‘secret’ locations, in hopes of bringing those exceptional experiences to Food Lovers’ attention here at JerseyBites. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org