Empanadas, sweet fried plantains, Cuban croquettes — inextricable partners with the Miami foodscape, these Latin American classics have made their debut in South Hall.
Opened last week by chef Joel Ferrer and his wife, Yinet, Cuban Café brings new life and flavor to the former Checkers on Wallis Road.
From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, patrons can find breakfast staples, tapas, handhelds — like the infamous Cuban sandwich or media noche stacked with roasted pork, smoked ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard — and sweet treats like flan and tres leches.
A native of Cuba, Ferrer has donned his chef’s hat for 35 years, the first 20 of which he spent working under Fidel Castro as an executive chef in some of Cuba’s most elite restaurants and hotels.
Roughly 15 years ago, Joel and Yinet moved to the states, spending a year in Miami before settling in Flowery Branch, where their children Joey, 10, and Daniel, 4, were born.
Before its doors were barred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Joel was the executive chef of Coco Cabana in Tucker.
Joel said as a teenager he was presented with an opportunity to play baseball on the university level, but hung up his cleats to follow his heart and hasn’t looked back.
“‘Chef’ is not a job; it’s a lifestyle,” he said. “A chef is an artist, just like musicians. It’s art — creating recipes, creating food. When a musician creates music, he’s not thinking about money; he’s thinking about music. And when his customer feels the music and he feels that connection, it’s the same thing with chefs. When we create recipes and feel how the customer’s feeling and see their face, it’s what we love. It’s the fire.”
Using hallowed family recipes, Cuban Café pays homage to the Ferrers’ roots while conjuring “memories from previous generations when everything was homemade,” according to Yinet.
While most Latin American dishes are notoriously spicy, that’s not the case with flavor-forward Cuban fare.
“Cuban food is about flavor — real flavor, not spicy,” Joel said. “Cubans don’t like spicy food — any, at all. Even pepper is spicy for Cubans. So we focus more on herbs, like oregano, cumin, lemon juice, sugar.”
There’s another prominent ingredient fused into every dish at Cuban Café: love.
“We serve with love; that’s our secret recipe,” Yinet said. “This restaurant, for us, is a way that we can share our passion with the community. We’ve been in the food industry for many, many years and it’s part of our life. That’s what we love to do: serve people and make them happy with our service and with our food.”
Like her husband, Yinet also has personal ties to the food service industry; in Cuba, she studied a 2.5-year curriculum to become a waitress. The formal training, she said, mirrors that of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
With their blended passion and experience, the couple are eager to give “Miami-style” flavor a more mainstream seat at Georgia’s table.
“We want to help Cuban cuisine grow here in Georgia — bring a little piece of Miami to here,” Yinet said. “We want to be part of that movement.”