Brocato’s Sandwich Shop opened in 1948, and has built up a loyal customer base by serving Cuban food ever since. Yet, in all these years of building up a devout local following, I somehow had never even heard the name Brocato. And so, to remedy that mistake, I recently paid Brocato a visit.
Located on Old Columbus and 50th Street, set behind a few beautiful gas stations, you will find the modest Brocato’s Sandwich Shop, likely with a packed parking lot and a line out the door. Don’t be afraid – this is normal.
Once inside, you’re greeted with delightful chaos – a town’s worth of people packed into a living room’s worth of space, workers screaming the name of the customer whose food is ready, walls packed with local history and endless menus, and the most unintelligible mess of a line I’ve ever seen. Don’t even try to figure it out… just wait until you’ve moved to the front and then look like an asshole when you realize you’re in the exact opposite place of where you’re supposed to be.
The whole place feels more like a popular dive you’d find in the downtown of a big city… the place has its own culture, the staff is screaming back and forth to one another to desperately try and keep up with the orders, and everything moves more quickly than you’ll be prepared for, in spite of the wait. But rather than intimidating, it’s actually exciting. This is not the kind of place you’d expect to find in Tampa Bay, but somehow it feels quintessentially Tampa. Just being there reminded me of the feeling I get when looking at my parent’s photos of Tampa from the 80’s.
On my visit, I ordered one of their several different specials (which may or may not undermine the meaning of “special”) – the “Everyday Special”, a meal consisting of a 6″ sandwich of your choice, a devil crab or stuffed potato, chips, and a drink. Naturally, I chose the Cuban (hot), and, as Brocato’s is known for them, I went with the devil crab (despite my love of a good potato ball). The meal comes to about 15 bucks, which seems a bit much in a world of five dollar footlongs, but trust me… you get a lot of food.
The Cuban was one of the best I’ve ever had. I really enjoy the Cubans from Ruben’s Cubans on Busch Boulevard, but Brocato’s might edge them out. I do not particularly approve of lettuce and tomato, or the mayonnaise, all of which were included here and most certainly don’t belong on a traditional Cuban sandwich, but the quality of the meat here overpowered any disappointment I may have had. Just tweak the order slightly, and you’ll have the perfect Cuban sandwich. And as for the devil crab… I can’t say I’ve ever had a devil crab before (even though it is a favorite of my family), and I probably wouldn’t want to try to work through one of these myself all in one sitting, but I could definitely see myself sharing one with someone in the future. If you are a fan, they have a unique take that is quite impressive.
Brocato’s has clearly earned their following. The business is good, the food is great, the atmosphere is entirely their own, and their customers are all friendly, down to earth people. If you’re looking for a real taste of Tampa, look no further than Brocato’s Sandwich Shop.