The Salty Cubana is where owner, Rita Martinez is bringing her Cuban soul to Nashville with a southern twist, of course. Inspired by her Miami living, The Salty Cubana is a local pop-up concept providing a mix of tropical flavors and old-world Spanish tradition in every one of their bites.
What inspired you to start your food concept?
I moved to Nashville from Miami back in May of 2014 and, upon arriving, I struggled to find the comfort foods of my childhood. You know what they say. You want what you can’t have. I quickly found the flavors and textures that I always foolishly took for granted were now at the forefront of my mind every day.
So one night a girlfriend of mine, who was also a Miami transplant, and I were enjoying some margaritas and reminiscing about our hometown and the food our abuela’s raised us on: the crunch of a freshly fried ham croqueta, the sweet and savory creamy goodness that you get when you bite into a guava and cream cheese pastelito and the piece of heaven that is a pan con bistec sandwich from Mary’s Coin Laundry on 27th and Coral Way. Necessity is the mother of invention so, 3 years later, here we are.
While I was at the University of Florida in Gainesville, thanks to friends who would let me couch surf on the weekends, I was able to travel throughout the South quite a bit and I fell in love with it. In 2013, during one of those weekends, I was in Savannah, GA for St. Patrick’s Day when I met a boy. Totally cliché, but after a year of long-distance, I decided to trade in my black beans and rice for bourbon and biscuits, packed up my stuff, headed north (or deeper south, depending on who you ask) to Nashville, and never looked back. We launched on March 20th at Various Artist Brewing Company and it’s been non-stop. I am and will be forever thankful to the Nashville community for its kindness, patience, and support as we are figuring out our rhythm.
Side note: Not to worry! It worked out and that boy is now my fiancé.
What are your must-try signature items?
This question is a tough one. Our menu is a mix of Miami-inspired classics with a southern twist. If I had to pick, it would be our empanadas and pastelitos. Everything we make is done from scratch, but these guys are a different kind of labor of love. With that said, they are worth every single step and second they take to produce. It took me some time to develop the dough for the empanadas. I had a very specific vision for it and wanted it to be versatile since I figured not everyone would want to fry them at home. The good news is they can be fried, baked or air fried!
We mix, roll out, and cut the disc for each one of them and then fill them with one of our three mixtures. The picadillo is everyone’s favorite. It’s a Havana-style filling whose base is made up of ground lamb and beef I source from the amazing folks over at Porter Road Butcher. We also give a little nod to the south and in our other fan-favorite swap the traditional use of spinach for apple cider vinegar-soaked collards then we top it with smoked mozzarella. The smoked mozzarella is coming from The Bloomy Rind and gives it a really nice kick.
We can’t not mention our pastelitos. Pastelitos are Cuban puff pastries that are traditionally had for breakfast with your cafecito. I’m sourcing our guava marmalade from a small family farm just south of Miami in the Redlands and making our toasted coconut almond filling rather than getting it from a can. We also use cream cheese in a couple of them that we whip with different kinds of natural extracts because why not? Sugar and caffeine are a pretty glorious way to start any morning.
As an international food concept, what do you hope patrons walk away with when they experience your food?
Food wields an undeniable power to unite. My love for my culture and deep appreciation for great food, a good tale, and community are the driving force behind this project. The South and the islands have so much more in common than I think most people realize. It’s my hope The Salty Cubana will be a place where I bring people together – a space where I can share the flavors, stories, and recipes that make my Caribbean hometown and southern home such beautifully unique destinations rich with warm smiles, history, and culture. Southern hospitality and delicious home cooking are alive and well up here in Nashville, and way down south in Miami. It is my sincere hope to share ours with your family and friends.