April 6, 2020 – In some ways it just makes poetic sense that Babaloo Cuban Café would open in the middle of a global pandemic.
After years scrapping it out driving long commutes to make its food truck operation work, finding rebirth as a brick-and-mortar, and finally making a home in the most bare-bones of restaurant spaces at The Press Club in Seaside, BCC is nothing if not a survivor.
“This is the Cuban way,” owner-operator Gladys Parada says. “Otherwise I would’ve just started cooking from my house. I can’t just sit here. It kinda confirms that I do what I need to do. I need to serve people!”
She barely made it through approvals in time, and in a way that reverberates with the COVID-19 mania of the moment. When the county health inspector called her March 27, she was told they were about to shut down restaurant visits completely—but if she could get to the café immediately they could possibly work through the final checklist remotely.
“I can be there in 20 minutes!” Parada burst out.
They conducted an inspection via FaceTime, with the would-be restaurateur pointing out each necessary safety measure, such as using a thermometer to show water temps reach the necessary 120° F. and installation of a new prep sink.
With the final approval in place, she drove to the health department’s Salinas office for the appropriate paperwork, which she slid under the door at closed-to-the-public Seaside City Hall. Fire and building inspections ensued.
After leaping those hurdles, Babaloo opens for take-away Monday, April 6. Hours are 11am to 6pm weekdays; orders happen exclusively by phone (831-901-3900); accepted payment will be credit card only.
Keeping with the scrappy Cuban way of life, she’s pivoting away from the “I Love Lucy” theme and renaming fan favorite sandwiches for Cuban-American icons, while adding a new potential hit.
The Lucy! Lucy! with marinated chicken, mango-avocado crema and melted Monterey jack cheese is now the Celia, in honor of singer Celia Cruz, born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso. Both are a mouthful.
The Ricky Ricardo with pulled pork, Virginia ham, pickles, mustard and melted Swiss—a classic Cuban sandwich—is now El Clásico, fittingly enough.
The Fred and Ethel fish cake sliders with lemon crema and crunchy tropical slaw, typically with mahi mahi, are now Gloria’s Sliders, with a nod to Ms. Gloria Estefan, made famous by the Miami Sound Machine.
New items are limited but inviting: a daily soup (“Just ask, we got some ‘splainin to do” is the subtext on the menu); sweet plantains; and a “Chino-Latino” bowl with Asian-style fideo noodles, greens, cabbage, garbanzo beans, avocado, mango, peanuts, pickled onions, cilantro and mint.
Reasonably priced cans of craft beer make for a one-stop show, and include North Coast Brewing’s Scrimshaw pilsner and Laguna Baja Mexican-style lager, Coronado Brewing Company’s Weekend Vibes and Leisure Lagoon Hazy Pale Ale and Allagash White. Parada is also working on wines in consultation with local ace sommelier Matt Peterson.
Meanwhile, Parada is hoping to appoint the airy and modern space that doubles as a rotating art venue with a Havana cityscape and big canvas portraits of the Cuban icons who inspire the renamed menu. She’s also eager, post-corona virus crisis, to install some drum-driven salsa dance happy hours.
But that’s well down the road. For now, she’s keeping things simple and safe.
As she says, “You gotta start somewhere!”
Here’s hoping this is the start of something big and lasting.
More at babaloocubancafe.com.