Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tampa Devil Crab

I first visited Tampa, Florida the year I met [The Man I Love]. He was raised in this Gulf Coast city, spent time here playing gigs with bands, and he brought me here to visit his family. We spent a lot of time driving around - his family home is actually in a rural suburb, but his memories are all over this spread-out city.

We visited his favorite Cuban restaurants, some that no longer exist, such as the Silver Ring in Ybor City, where we got amazingly good Cuban sandwiches, and a strip-mall Cuban cafeteria-style place near his family home, called the Big Guava, where we got something called Devil Crab.

A Devil Crab is a football shaped item about 4-5 inches long, made of leftover breadcrumbs shaped around a filling of crabmeat in spicy sauce, and fried.

Many cities have Cuban communities, and places to get Cuban food. Here in the L.A. area you can find Cuban sandwiches and fantastic baked goods at Porto's Bakery in Glendale, and a couple other restaurants -including the Versailles - serve Cuban food. But as far as I know, Devil Crabs are unique to Tampa.

Some commenters on the Florida site of Chowhound theorize that, unlike other Cuban communities in the US, that were founded after the Revolution, the Tampa community is older, dating back to the old 19th century cigar factory days, when newly arrived Cuban and Italian immigrants mingled, and influenced one another's culture. The Devil Crab, while similar to Cuban fried croquettes, resembles an Italian treat with its seafood filling and spicy tomato-based sauce.

It doesn't matter. It's just damned good.

In Tampa, you can buy Devil Crabs at Cuban sandwich shops and restaurants. You eat them on the run, in the car, to go. You can buy frozen ones, too, to bake at home, although why anyone would want to, I'll never know. There are good ones - hot, fresh out of the fryer, satisfyingly spicy with some hot sauce - and there are bad ones - warmed under heat lamps, sodden mushy breadcrumbs and a little dab of unappetizing fishy-tasting paste inside.

Well, on our recent trip, we went in search of what we heard was a great Devil Crab at a small family-run Italian grocery down on Armenia Avenue, called Cacciatore & Sons. You place your order at the deli counter, and it's made and fried up right in the back for you. We clutched our waxed-paper packages, stood in line at the grocery cashier waiting for the elderly ladies to ring us up, and went out to the car to eat them right there.

No football-shaped pre-fab Devil Crab here. This one was still hot to the touch from the fryer. A little oil made transparent spots on the paper, but otherwise it was not greasy at all, and perfectly cooked. Dab a little hot sauce on the paper and take a bite....

Look at that. Just a thin shell of breadcrumbs surrounding ample crabmeat - real lump crabmeat! Delicious! We wolfed them down in the car, licked our fingers and....

Went off to Ybor City and the Columbia for a mojito.



Vallen said...

Damn, woman you are killing me!! All my favorite parts of the world and all my favorite foods. Lucky you.

KathyR said...

Looks tasty.

Haven't been to Versailles in a million years.

Have you been to Xiomara? It is sort of fancy Cuban-esque.

DaveyWaveyGoodAsGravy said...

I think Curly and I will pay a visit to Cacciatore & Sons this week for her B-Day!

Oh, good news: The Silver Ring is still around! They relocated several blocks to the west on 7th Ave.! They still hot press those Cuban sandwiches flat as a dimestore romance! Mmmm!