I’ll try not to beat a dead horse here but, if you’re unaware, Brocato’s is pretty much a Tampa legend when it comes to a big, no-frills, and, admittedly fantastic sandwich. Their 63-year existence is a testament in itself to just how beloved this tiny sandwich shop has become in the eyes (and mouths) of the Tampa Bay community.
On any given lunch break period during the week, a trip to Brocato’s can be a daunting venture. The thing you have to know is Brocato’s has built a hefty following over its years. This means a packed, and I mean packed, house between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. Brocato’s standard operation procedure goes like this; head up to the counter, order, and wait till your ticket’s called in a dense sea of other hungry customers. Sitting is pretty limited, so if you can deal with a to-go order, do it.
The food, oh the food, is worth the wait, though. The Cuban sandwich, packed a good inch high even when press comes loaded with shaved ham, roasted pork and all the typical fixings (mayo, mustard, tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles). The greasy crunch of the pressed bread melds perfectly with the deliciously sloppy mess of ingredients on the inside. Maybe not a true Cuban in the classic sense of the word, but it’s hard to care when you’re eating a sandwich this good.
Another Brocato’s specialty, devil crab, comes packed with shredded crab meat, spices, and green peppers wrapped in dough and golden fried to perfection. A little misleading, devil crab is more of a crab croquette. Even so, this thing is a menagerie of flavor and texture perfect suited for between bites of a Cuban. Douse in a generous dose of Texas Pete and you’ve got a classic Cuban delicacy that actually originated right here in Ybor City.
If you’re visiting any Cuban restaurant, black beans and yellow rice are a must. Cuban restaurants can go a ton of ways with this combo; they can treat their black beans as filler, background players to the fancier stuff, or nurture them with slow cooking, a conscious blend of spices and really let them shine. Brocato’s is the latter. Although this palate isn’t uber-discerning (yet), it’s easy to tell the black beans were way more than dried, then boiled beans traveling straight from bag to plate. Plus you get a ton. A small could easily accommodate two people on its own.
Lunch in and around Ybor City affords you a ton of choices. If you want a classic, sure-shot delicious Cuban meal, Brocato’s is a must. Don’t just take it from me. 60+ years is a long time for a tiny sandwich shop. Current word of mouth is one thing, but it’s hard to disprove over half a century’s worth of loyal customers. Check ‘em out and see if you agree.