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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lunch Report: Bruno's on West Hildebrand...

For some reason, every time my wife and I thought of going to Bruno's, it turned out to be a Sunday, so we tricked ourselves by diverting from a place I had planned for Saturday and headed straight to West Hildebrand and found the place open for lunch.

Why the need to get into Bruno's? I had read an article in either the Express-News or The Current that talked glowingly about the fine Cuban cuisine. Clearly, these writers have never been to The Columbia. But, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.


When I was in school in West Tampa (what a scary time - being the only white kid huddled together with the only black kid and maybe a Vietnamese kid in a sea of Cuban men. Let's face it, in the 7th grade, the Cuban guys had facial hair and such; showering in gym was especially humiliating) one of the favorite days of the week was Cuban sandwich day in the lunch room. I don't think there was any effort to make the sandwich special, but the Cuban bread and the ham and cheese just seemed so good. Since leaving Florida more than 25 years ago, I
have always been on the lookout for a good Cuban sandwich.

Another favorite is Chicken and Yellow Rice. When I introduced this specialty to my wife at The Columbia the first time I took her, she was hooked. Thankfully over the years, she has adapted a recipe my mother gave her into her own, and honestly, I will put my wife's version of Chicken and Yellow Rice up against any one's; dare I say it, even The Columbia.

But how nice would it be for us to be able to go to a Cuban restaurant here in San Antonio where we could get some fine authentic vittles. I would so love for the Gonzmart family to open up a place on the River Walk.


We buy those Entertainment coupon books every year to support various school fundraisers, and I know for the 2009 book, we easily exceeded the $20 or $25 we paid for it in savings. When we purchased the 2010 edition last week, I told my wife I wanted to keep strict track of every coupon we use, just so we can see how much we saved. And of course, one of the coupons was for Bruno's. Now we had to go!

When we walked up to the door, there was a large sign reporting that Bruno's does not accept the coupon with their name on it. But, that would not be enough to stop us from giving them a try. If only we had been so easily persuaded. My wife asked the owner, Bruno, what the deal was with the coupon and he explained that they have been trying to get the Entertainment book people to remove their coupon for the past several years, but they just can't seem to get it done. He said his next step is to go to the Better Business Bureau.

Inside, the place has a nice feel to it. Very clean and comfortable, couches and sitting areas placed throughout. I guess with a full bar there, you could grab a cocktail and go sit down with your date like it was some fashionable dining club or something. Who knows? We were the only diners present, so maybe there is more of an evening crowd to the place. I might have felt out of place if other people had shown up with dinner jackets and such.

Our waiter came out and was super friendly, helping us with the menu. I had a bad feeling right away when I saw that Bruno's is a Puerto Rican and Cuban Restaurant, and an even worse feeling when I saw the overwhelming number of Puerto Rican flags in the place. I'm sure Puerto Rican food is wonderful, but not when what you have the urge for is Cuban.

The waiter assisted my wife and I going item by item to identify Cuban dishes versus Puerto Rican dishes. It was a given that I would order the Cuban sandwich and my wife would be ordering chicken. But we also wanted to try a few sides. I asked for an order of Croquetas (Ham Croquettes) and the Platanos maduros (ripe plantains that are fried). Unfortunately, they were out of the plantains.

As they went back to the kitchen to cook up our order, we sort of looked around the place. They have a side patio and a rear patio, places to sit, places to dance, and of course a full service bar. I'm guessing now this is where 51% of the income comes from.

We could smell the food in the kitchen, and honestly, it smelled wonderful. My wife and I were both pretty excited about it when we saw the waiter bringing out the food. The excitement was short lived.

The Croquetas were burnt little rolls of dough or something. I could not have picked out a hint of ham flavor with a seeing eye dog, and my wife could not force half a bite of one down. I'm at a loss for just what the point of these little things is.As soon as I saw my plate, I was disappointed on two fronts. First, the bread on the Cuban was not Cuban bread - or at least the kind you use to make a Cuban sandwich. Secondly, the rice looked terrible. It was obviously dry and the little peas looked as though they had been dead for some time. Bruno's is only open Wednesday through Saturday. I suspect this batch of rice was made on Wednesday, possibly of the previous week. The sandwich itself was not bad per se, it just wasn't what I had a need for. I told my wife later that if someone had just said, "here, try this sandwich" I would have liked it. But when you order steak and get chicken, it isn't that the chicken is bad, but it isn't what you want.My wife ordered the Pechuga de pollo, sauteed with onions & bell peppers in a tomato-based sauce. The presentation was reminiscent of prison food, though having never been to prison, I can only imagine this is what you get. The spices had a Caribbean flavor to them, and other than the fact that it was extremely too salty, I could see how people might enjoy it. But it simply wasn't what we were there for.My wife's plate came with an order of beans. Though not bad, I couldn't help wonder how old they were.

In the end, the rice was simply inedible and we both sort of spread it over our plates attempting to lessen the appearance of taking a single bite or two and giving up.

Bruno's falls into the category of one of those places we so wanted to like and be able to return again and again. Instead, after waiting for so long to finally give them a try, we were simply disappointed. Blech.

If you are a fan of Puerto Rican food, why not give it a shot and tell us how it compares to your expectations. But I'm guessing you'll want to go on a Wednesday or Thursday while the food is still reasonably fresh.


Maureen said...

You can get a better-looking (and probably tasting) Cuban at any Valero Corner Store. That rice looks positively craptastic. And by that I mean, it looks like it has crap in it. Ugh...I've seen this place and will definitely scratch it off our "to-do" list.

Hey, can y'all try the Sandwich Garden on McCullough and maybe save me a trip? kthanks....

Anonymous said...

I haven't eaten at the Sandwich Garden in a few years but they used to have a vegetarian sandwich that was the best thing I have ever had in a sandwich shop!! DELICIOUS!!!

Sabra said...

The Sandwich Garden is wonderful. It's one of those restaurants that has been around for years because it's actually good, not just because it's always been there.

Dave, I sure hope you didn't pay too much for that food! It looks incredibly low-rent, to say the least. I don't have any clue about Cuban food, so I'll take your word & avoid it.

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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