Charleston, SC was something else. With the twisting, overhanging trees, the brightly colored & ornate Spanish architecture, I was in a photographer’s DREAM! (fun fact, I love taking pictures of buildings, trees too....well, really anything that can’t talk back to me). This was the first city that we’ve stopped in, that truly stood out to us as distinctly southern. We were just wandering about town, taking it all in and getting a glimpse of what Charleston had to offer. I was so focused on taking photographs of the city, I was ignoring my stomach yelling at me to eat. And before I knew it, we were hot, sweaty, tired, and the worst one of all... HANGRY. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I was getting hangry, meaning I’m irritable, short with people, and making Chris’ life a living hell. On top of that, the two of us had recently cut out caffeine, and I hate to admit it, but I wasn’t handling it all too well. Chris decided that we needed to get something to eat, and FAST. We opened up our list of restaurants, and luckily for us (but mostly Chris), there was a cafe only five minutes away from us. SCORE! We were off like a rocket, racing through the streets of Charleston to fill our belly’s at the Cuban Gypsy Pantry.
Don’t underestimate this little Cuban cafe, because it packs one hell of punch. Nestled on Calhoun St, overlooking Marion Square you’ll find the unassuming Cuban Gypsy Pantry. Peering through the windows, we were greeted to a brightly colored & airy eatery, packed with consumers engaged in lively conversation. The space is simply adorable. About eight tables of two fill the room, with a little counter bar, plus a little standing bar/outdoor area on the right side of the building, with an amazing Anthony Bourdain mural covering the entire wall. PERFECT! This is the place for me. To be fair, it is a little tight inside, but the clean & brightly colored aesthetic, really makes the place feel larger than it is. Cuban Gypsy Pantry is more inviting than someone dangling a medium-rare filet, dripping with gorgonzola cheese in front of my face (yeah that’s a thing). But enough about how cool it looks, my head was pounding & my stomach’s growling; time to eat!
As hungry as we were, dealing with this caffeine withdrawal was far more important (stopping cold turkey may not have been the best idea...). Now, I’m not a coffee drinker, I find it way too bitter, and I'm just generally not a fan of the taste. But at this point, I just didn’t care. Give me an iced coffee, and I’ll drown it with milk. But I was not prepared for that first sip. “Why do I like this?” “Why does this taste so good to me right now?!” “Chris—do I like the taste of coffee now?” As he shook his head (laughing at me), he pointed to a percolator up on a shelf by the door. In addition to using dark roast Cuban coffee beans, at Cuban Gypsy Pantry, they brew all their coffee with a percolator, which unlike regular drip coffee, constantly circulates the brew through the grounds, making a stronger, richer, and bolder coffee. As Chris told me all of this, I simply stared at him like he was a textbook, as I sat there drinking my stronger, richer & bolder coffee...I guess? Whatever it was, one thing’s for sure, it was damn delicious! With my caffeine headache now subsiding, I finally had the concentration needed to read the menu and order some food.
Cuban Gypsy Pantry had all the Cuban classics you look for in a place like this. Empanadas, beef picadillo, fried plantains, shrimp with coconut sauce, and of course, good old Cuban(o) sandwiches. Now, you may know about Chris’s love of Rubens, but a Cuban sandwich? He’ll drop everything for one of those. So once he stepped foot inside Cuban Gypsy Pantry, there was no other option for him. For me, I went with one of their specials, the Chicken Gyro (steak was also an option). In my hungry haze, I just went with fries to go with my gyro, but Chris upgraded his to their signature green fries. What are green fries you ask? Start with crisp & crunchy French fries (wicked amazing fries on their own, there’s nothing better than a perfectly fried potato). Then they get topped with yellow mustard, pickles, scallions, cilantro, parmesan and their house specialty green sauce (kinda like a jalapeño & cilantro-pesto mayo). Now I got to admit, I generally turn my nose up at yellow mustard (Dijon is soooo much better). But once I (hesitantly) tried one, I was amazed, the flavors just worked. One fry was all took for me to renounce years of yellow mustard hate. My friends, believe me, that’s why its always good to try a restaurant’s concoctions—even if you don’t like one ingredient—trust the people that make the menu, they know these flavors better than you do. Just reading the ingredients alone, I never would have tried these, but I’m so glad I dove right in.
Chris’ Cuban sandwich he said verbatim, was “the best Cuban sandwich I ever had.” With smokey sweet pulled pork, layered with salami, ham, cheese, green sauce, and mustard, then pressed & toasted. Amazingly, even with all that stuffed inside, it wasn’t too heavy of a sandwich at all, but a nice Cuban delight. He also said to me, “you better take a bite now because this is going to be gone soon.” Well then. But I’m so glad he did because that sandwich was game-changing. Each bite was so flavorful, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) put it down. The pulled pork was his favorite addition, usually with Cubanos, it’s roasted pork fillets, but this was a great changeup. Chris has had many Cubans before, he’s extremely picky about them too- he usually makes a comment that the meat isn’t moist enough, not enough flavor, cheese, sauce, etc. But this time, he just sat, ate it, and he couldn’t help but smile between each bite. I think he’s found his new favorite when it comes to Cuban Sandwiches.
My Chicken Gyro was unbelievable. Warm thick pita (it should always be warm in my opinion), layered with freshly grilled chicken, green sauce, mesclun greens, big red juicy tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce drizzled on top. For the first time in a long while, I finally had a gyro that wasn’t drowning in tzatziki. It was seriously a nice change of pace. Cuban Gypsy Pantry’s green sauce is their hidden gem, truly a universal condiment, enhancing everything it touches. From what we’ve gathered, it's fairly similar to a traditional Cuban ‘mojo sauce’ (made from parsley, cilantro, garlic, lime, jalapeño, olive oil & vinegar), but with their own added flair. Put this on everything and you’ll be a happy camper like us.
Cuban Gypsy Pantry took us completely by surprise, leaving our bellies full & satisfied. From start to finish, this little spot delivered surprise after surprise right to our tastebuds. I entered with hanger in my eyes, but Cuban Gypsy Pantry fixed that quickly, and I left in such a better mood (much to Chris’ relief). I’m still so floored by the taste of their coffee. I even got a second cup to go! For such a little cafe, it delivers big flavor. The food is beyond remarkable, it’s no wonder why people flock to this little cafe. With their following growing larger & larger every day, Cuban Gypsy Pantry will soon be opening a second location in North Charleston, SC. On October 28th, 2019 you can be the first to try out Cuban Gypsy Pantry’s great food in their new luxuriously spacious location. But for us, the real gem will always be their original location, nothing beats that hole-in-the-wall vibe that is 141 Calhoun St. Whenever we’re in Charleston, SC, we’ll now make a point to always come here. I know Chris will- just to get the ‘Best Cuban sandwich he’s ever had.’
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