Though we might be a bit insulated here in middle America, we don’t have to travel to Florida any longer to get a taste of Cuba.
Mary and Anthony Martinez, along with son Josh, recently opened Mangos Cuban Cafe in the rapidly growing area around Church Studio off Third Street.
Anthony and brother Richard Martinez moved to Tulsa about six years ago to join their brother George in his oil and gas equipment company.
“George lived in Jenks and had lived here 10 years before we came,” Anthony said.
The brothers’ mother was from Naples, Italy, and their father from Havana, Cuba. As a nod to their Italian heritage, the brothers opened Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen in the Tuscany of Yale shopping center at 91st Street and Yale Avenue in 2013.
Richard died in 2018, and Mary and Anthony decided to borrow from the Cuban side of the family by opening their own restaurant, Mangos. George still runs Russo’s.
“When we were growing up in (Yonkers) New York, my grandmother Oneida Martinez cooked for the whole family while my mother worked two jobs,” Anthony said. “We never missed a meal, and it was always Cuban-style cooking.”
Anthony said he and Mary started gathering his grandmother’s recipes for Mangos. He said two Florida relatives, an uncle, Renso Fernandez, and sister, Ivonne Martinez, have been particularly helpful.
“My family from Florida have helped left and right,” he said. “They have been visiting here to see how it is going.”
I bet they would say it is going quite well.
I never have been to Cuba, but I once spent an entire day with a sports writer from the Chicago Tribune in the area known as Little Havana in Miami, Florida. We were covering an Orange Bowl and had some free time. We didn’t see another non-Cuban the whole day, and we ate and drank like there was no tomorrow.
Granted, that’s a small sample, but if memory serves me at all, Mangos is spot-on with its Cuban cuisine.
My wife has a better history. She grew up next door to a Cuban family in the Maple Ridge neighborhood of Tulsa. She was a frequent lunch or dinner guest and vividly recalls Mrs. Garcia’s cooking.
With that background, we tried a couple of appetizers with which we weren’t familiar and stuck to the most common entrees on a recent visit to Mangos. We will be back for more.
Our first dishes were the papa rellena ($3.95) and croquetas ($4.50).
Papa rellena included two billiard ball-sized rounds of mashed potatoes stuffed with picadillo — ground beef, onions, bell peppers, garlic, green olives — and deep-fried. They might become our new best comfort food.
We received four croquetas that featured minced ham and seasonings rolled inside a dough of flour, béchamel sauce and cracker meal in the shape of about a 3-inch link sausage. Josh said the idea is to smoosh the croquetas between two saltine crackers and consume them that way. I personally liked them better minus the crackers.
For our entrees, we chose the biggest-seller — the Cubana sandwich ($10.50) — and arroz con pollo ($10.95).
The sandwich was traditional and terrific. It included a sizable serving of slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and mustard inside wonderfully textured, thin Cuban bread shipped from Florida. It came with crispy fried plantain chips.
Arroz con pollo included big chunks of tender chicken served over rice with flavorful spices and seasonings. It came with a bowl of black beans and flat rounds of fried plantain. I’m told it is a typical Sunday dinner in Cuba.
Other entrees feature such choices as slow-roasted pork, marinated steak, shrimp, shredded braised beef and more.
We finished by sharing an order of flan ($5) topped with a caramel sauce. It was a dense, eggy custard, somewhere between Mexican flan and cheesecake, and it was extraordinary.
“We get our Cuban bread and flan from a bakery in Florida,” Anthony said. “We can get it shipped overnight, almost as quickly as we could get it in Florida.”
From the cocktail list, I ordered a Hemingway Special ($8) with a rum and cherry liqueur base, mostly because it referenced Hemingway. It was tasty.
The room, which seats about 50, is bright and shiny with a color scheme of white and orange, Cuban-themed posters, photos and wall murals. It has seats at the bar, window counter seats, a wall banquette and tables and chairs. Salsa music plays in the background, and live Latino jazz is scheduled Thursday nights.
Mangos Cuban Cafe is part of a resurgence of the Church Studio area. Recent new members include The Coffee Blues and soon-to-open The Swamp House. Freeway Cafe already was established there.
“It’s been great getting to know everyone around here,” Anthony said. “We’re like one big family, and I think this area is going to boom.”
Mangos has limited street parking in front and a dedicated parking lot in back.