The Trop’s Cuba Libre has added a seasonally inspired brunch menu overseen by Chef Guillermo Pernot.
Brunch, in our opinion, is easily the most sophisticated meal of the day.
Think about it, this late morning/early afternoon hybrid offers all the benefits of a hearty fast-break, coupled with the variety and diversity of midday or evening repasts.
As a result, we were seriously excited to hear that one of our favorite A.C. restaurants, Cuba Libre, was adding a seasonally inspired brunch service to their existing offerings.
Do keep in mind, this isn’t some tired, old reworking of standard stuff. Much of the menu has been personally fashioned by James Beard award-winning chef/partner Guillermo Pernot.
Pernot, who again visited the once-forbidden island nation this past April — leading a small group on a cultural tour — apparently returned full of ideas. And while other outposts of Cuba Libre, notably Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have been serving brunch for some time, Atlantic City’s service incorporates both existing items as well as promising additions.
We began with their stellar, Caribbean-style guacamole Cubano. A tight dome, packed with cubed avocado and golden pineapple, accompanied by long, thin plantain crisps.
Formed by expertly cut cubes — a brunoise, in French chef terms — of green and yellow, this bright, light version offers both the inherent creaminess of avocado and the incandescent sweetness of pineapple.
Next up, another item from their piqueos (small tasting plates) albondigas camaguey, four perfect little mini-meatballs doused with a shiny, Asian-inspired glaze. Pleasantly salty, with just a whisper of heat, the beef/pork/pine nut combos were perched atop a scintillating warm salad of hot and sour mushrooms sourced from the epicenter of that industry, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Having started with savory, we now wanted to explore the sweet. Soufflé de panqueque, an oven-baked pancake soufflé, served in a cool, individual size cast iron pan, fit that bill. Topped with a fresh berry salad, whipped cream and sided by molasses infused with five-year-old Cuba Libre aged rum, this was no ordinary pancake. Its texture was thick and custardy with a yellow color. The result was a highly refined dish, more along the lines of what we would expect from a fine French bistro.
Empanadas brought a pair of steamy half-moon shaped pies, filled with melted leeks, bacon and a whole, poached egg. These were paired with a crisp, slightly bitter salad of wonderful watercress, liberally tossed with another chef’s specialty, a spicy Bloody Mary vinaigrette.
The soft, yolky ovum created a spontaneous sauce once a fork tore open the pastry, always a keen little culinary tactic.
Another dish featuring eggs, churrasco benedict, arrived as two thick squares of chimichurri-marinated skirt steak over a buttery brioche and topped by two over easies and tomato-hollandaise (otherwise known as “choron”) sauce. The meat itself was sweet, without any hint of the stringiness, which can often plague this cut. And we adored the amber-hued sauce, a bit of smoky coupled with the natural acidity of tomato.
Our final sample from the regular menu, Cobbano salad, was a Latino take on the traditional Cobb. It was highlighted by smoky roasted pulled pork in a sweet plantain salpicon. A bed of fresh greens, including more of that leafy cress, tossed with hearts of palm, organic grape tomato halves, bacon, plenty of Cabrales bleu cheese — Spain’s answer to Roquefort — plus chopped hardboiled egg and scallions with a light mustard vinaigrette made for a hearty plating.
From the dessert menu, we split a torta de chocolatey dulce de leche. This fallen chocolate soufflé was layered with caramel and finished with a spoon of dolce de leche ice cream, chocolate orange sauce and a tart, complimentary blueberry compote.
“We saw this coming and we’re well prepared to grow it for the next 10 or 15 years. This is a whole transition we’re living through.”
“[Cuba Libre] didn’t want to be in nightlife anymore,” says Kauffman. “They just opened in Washington [DC] and Orlando and will soon be opening in Boston and Chicago, and really just wanted to get out of nightlife in general. So they offered [32 Degrees] to us and we just jumped on it.”
Atlantic City’s outpost of Cuba Libre — in Tropicana’s Havana-themed Quarter — completed an extensive reworking of its bill of fare earlier this summer. These changes reflect the personal experiences of chef/partner Guillermo Pernot during several extended visits to that long-forbidden Caribbean island.
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