It is likely that more than enough good has been said about the Masterpiece Delicatessen in the Highlands, and in the grand scheme of things that is the Denver food world, what I am about to write probably matters very little (although that could be said about everything I write). But in revisiting one of my ongoing quests in Denver to find the "best of" certain dishes, I found myself at the Masterpiece Deli one summer afternoon not too long ago-- and in front of me was a Cuban sandwich.
The Cuban sandwich, like the Italian beef, is a minor obsession of mine (my foremost fetish, of course being the taco al pastor). The Cuban, with its succulent layers of ham and pork layered between buttery, grilled-pressed bread is one of the world's finer sandwiches, and done right it is nothing short of, well, a masterpiece.
It was a hot Saturday afternoon at Masterpiece and the place was packed. Even the boiling hot sun-drenched parts of the patio had people chowing down on their breakfast bagels and sandwiches, seemingly undaunted by the intense summer sun. And although half of them were looking thoroughly hungover, they all seemed to manage a smile when their sandwich came-- and continue smiling while eating.
Good sign I noted, not that it would have mattered. My wife's entire family was already inside ordering while I tried to maneuver the stroller onto the patio. It wouldn't fit in any reasonable way, so taking a lesson learned earlier this summer, I parked it out front. But there was no way my babies were going to sit in that hot sun, so I hovered over a table in the shade that seemed like it was finishing up--and the three of us tried not to drool too much over their breakfast (with somewhat limited success).
The Cuban I ordered was stuffed with a thick and tender slow-roasted slice of pork and on that were stacked layers of Black Forest ham. The roasted pork was wonderfully moist and worthy of a proper Cuban. Also in the tradition of the Cuban was the yellow mustard and sliced pickles. Apparently there was also a garlic aioli as well, and although I didn't really notice it, I suppose for that reason it worked. The bread was the only thing holding this Cuban back from being a great:
For an otherwise wonderful sandwich, the thin, airy hamburger-bun-like roll was just not right. Fair enough, as nowhere does Masterpiece purport anything about trying to replicate every last detail of a proper Cuban. At the same time, given how good everything else was that I tried, if they decided to replicate the lard-filled white bread that traditionally adorns a Cuban, I bet they could do it well.
What I also tried included a version of another classic: the Mexican Torta. Served on a baguette (which as far as substitute bread choices go is a good one--even this Mexican place does it), it was stuffed with a carnita-like pork filling and gobs of avocado. It had melted cheese, mayo, tomatoes and all the other usual torta suspects. It was a worthy take on its Mexican counterpart.
Another sandwich worth mentioning from that day was the fantastic Italian stuffed with copious layers of cured and spiced meats (from NYC's famous Salumeria Biellese); zingy, fresh arugula and surrounded on both sides with light, airy ciabatta.
I wasn't looking for an "authentic" Cuban that day (although who even knows what "authentic" means anymore) and I didn't find one-- though I did have a great sandwich. After all, we all know you don't have to be Cuban to make a Cuban sandwich (although being from South Florida certainly helps). I'm not sure where the masterminds behind Masterpiece hail from, but they just about nailed this classic. Almost.
It is always good to see that a place that could easily live on it's reputation and prior accolades--especially one that seems to turn over customers and tables at the rate they do here-- still puts out a bunch of good, well-crafted sandwiches. It took me far too long to get here, and while I might not be back just for the Cuban, I will definitely be back.
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