If you have ever spent a night out on Shrewsbury Street, you know there’s a large, diverse menu of food from which to choose. During fall days, you can squeeze into the hectic — let’s say intimate — seating at the Flying Rhino or enjoy a drink at the underrated bar at 111 Chop House.
For many, though, including yours truly, nothing compares to the sweet sounds of salsa music on a breezy afternoon while biting into a delicious slice of flan.
Walking into Café Reyes, 421 Shrewsbury St., you are instantly ensconced in Cuban culture. The brightly colored walls of the entryway to the café percolate your imagination while your ears are filled with the rich sounds of Prince Royce, a successful bachata singer.
Where Dante’s Restaurant used to stand, brilliant colors, blue suede chairs and picture frames capturing the streets of Cuba mingle with the enticing and formidable fragrance of freshly chopped herbs. Café Reyes, opened in January, seems to be the perfect slice of Little Havana.
Cookbooks and tomes on the history of the Cuban people decorate the table in the welcoming sitting area. Completely immersed in the feeling of the old country, Café Reyes further honors the island of Cuba with a mural covering the wall.
After discussing the menu with Rey, the well-known waiter at Café Reyes, he recommends the Cuban. But of course! How can anyone in their right mind visit a Cuban restaurant and not try the Cuban sandwich?
Layered with slow-smoked pork, ham, cheese, mustard, pickles, and nestled between amazingly toasted panini bread, the Cuban already was starting to shape itself into the highlight of my day.
“I am originally from New Jersey and have been in Worcester for a little over a year,” Rey said. “Café Reyes has been a great way for me to leave the past behind.”
A little confused about Rey’s excitement to leave the past behind?
Rey is a resident of the Hector Reyes House, a treatment center for Latino men in recovery, and through his participation there, Rey has been able to further his recovery with on-site job training at Café Reyes.
RELATED: Read about the inspiring program that is the backbone of Café Reyes here.
Café Reyes provides job training and soft skills training to residents and graduates of the Hector Reyes House. The graduates are certified in restaurant safety and food preparation, among other needed certifications, to succeed fully in the industry.
The purpose of Café Reyes is to provide transitional support for program graduates and to enhance their lives in hopes of pursuing a positive lifestyle and continued progress toward their recovery.
A Cuban-infused restaurant with an altruistic objective that leaves a constructive imprint on the streets of Worcester? It’s the new rage on Shrewsbury Street. Or it should be.
Finally, my Cuban sandwich arrives, and it is served with fried plantain chips and grilled to perfection. The appetizing flavors of smoked pork, combined with the sweetness of the plantain chips, leave me eagerly asking for the dessert menu.
Kenny Bourbeau, the restaurant manager, said, “Researching the Cuban flavors for the menu led me to Miami. I gathered all the authenticity of the Cuban influence in Miami and added a few touches to create the menu.”
Of French descent, Bourbeau did not know much about Cuban food culture at the time of his recruitment. “It was a new area for me to cook in,” he said. “I do not come from a Spanish influence and when I was presented with the opportunity to work for Café Reyes, I thought that it would be a great way to expand.”
The menu knocks it right out of the park with its impressive list of Cuban dishes. From the infamous Cuban sandwich to the plato de lechon asado (slow roasted mojo pork, black beans, rice and fried plantains), Café Reyes does not understate the rich Cuban heritage that influences its offerings.
Among the list of breakfast and lunch dishes stands a list of its own: the drinks menu. Don’t get too excited, this is no wine list. Café Reyes serves a few classic coffee drinks and fresh shakes. You must know one thing about Spanish coffee: It is generally much stronger than the regular cup of joe served at your nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.
Another important item to remember: The prices — breakfast for less than $6, $7.95 for lunch sandwiches with chips — will have you walking outside to check the address, but rest assured that, yes, this is still Shrewsbury Street in Worcester. And, no, you do not have to pay extra just because Via’s at the other end.
Next time you take a stroll down Shrewsbury Street, be sure to grab a café con leche and soak in the Cuban culture, inviting atmosphere and classy, authentic dishes and coffees of Café Reyes.
This article was originally published in the Oct. 11, 2015 edition of the Sun.
Purchase a Worcester Sun membership for as low as $2.