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Juan and his famous black beans are back
The new cafe is a little more upscale than the old deli, but the menu retains favorites.
By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
Published July 22, 2007
Server Kim Wilburn brings out some of the delicious food at Juans Black Bean Cafe on Main Street in New Port Richey.
[Times photo: Lance Aram Rothstein]
[Times photo: Lance Aram Rothstein]
Was it the hint of cumin in the air, or did they hear it through the grapevine? Fans of Juan de Sosa, standing, and his Cuban cuisine quickly discovered Juan's Black Bean Cafe in downtown New Port Richey when it opened quietly earlier this month.
At last, at last, we passionate foodies can finally take off our mourning clothes.
After a much-too-long absence, Juan de Sosa, the octogenarian master of Cuban food, is back in town.
With new business partner Tom Hoglund, the longtime owner of Juan's Black Bean Deli has opened an elegantly decorated, beautifully appointed full-service restaurant in the heart of New Port Richey, with an expanded menu, impressive wine list, room for 132 lunch or dinner guests and live music four nights a week. (A steel drummer plays on the patio Wednesdays and Thursdays, and a Latin combo is inside Fridays and Saturdays.)
There's also a new name: Juan's Black Bean Cafe, a signal that this venture is something different from its modest precursors.
Juan quietly opened the new place early this month and was immediately swamped with devotees who heard about it through the grapevine.
"We are busy all the time," he said one morning last week before the lunch crowd arrived. "I apologize to anyone who came here when we were new. Everything is becoming better and better now."
The staff has learned the computer system that connects the front and back entrances so seating is guaranteed to be first-come, first-served. The computer also sends food orders to the kitchen and connects to the business office, so service is smooth and fast.
A staff of four in the kitchen, 11 waiters and two hosts, plus the co-owners' ever-watchful eyes keep the place humming.
The early days
People learned to love Juan's incomparable pressed Cuban sandwiches, picadillo and ropa vieja, all served on plastic plates, when he and his wife, Sandy, opened the miniscule Juan's Black Bean Deli lunch spot on Main Street in New Port Richey in 1999.
When the little tables inside filled up, patrons were happy to sit in sometimes sweltering heat or chilly breezes on the outdoor patio or at a wobbly picnic table under a nearby tree - sometimes even in their cars - just to partake of Juan's black beans and rice, arroz con pollo or Elena Ruth sandwiches (that's turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam).
When Juan's little shop was torn down to make way for the ill-fated Main Street Landing, diners journeyed down Grand Boulevard to his makeshift Black Bean Express, just to get those Cubans. When that closed, patrons symbolically donned sackcloth.
And now - now, their devotion has been rewarded.
The lunch and dinner menus are three pages long, with appetizers like ham croquettes, Cuban tamales and beef empanadas; garbanzo, black bean, and chicken and rice soups; five different salads; a long list of Cuban specialty sandwiches and platters at lunch, with steak, pork, chicken, fish and seafood entrees at night; and exotic desserts like guava in shells, papaya and cream cheese, and flan, all served on heavy china with polished silverware.
Prices range from $5.79 to $8 for sandwiches or platters at lunch and from $8.95 to $25 for entrees with salad and two side dishes at dinner.
The restaurant's wines are from Chile, Spain, Germany, France and California, by the glass for $4 to $6.25 and by the bottle for $22 to $60. There are also draft and bottled beers, specialty drinks (wine-based margaritas, daiquiris and pina coladas) and dessert wines from Spain.
Inside are seats for 76 people, a bandstand and cozy dance floor. The decor looks like something straight out of Ybor City - or Havana - with dark woods, tile floor, windows etched with palm trees, trompe l'oeil brick patches in the golden ochre walls, a deep wine-colored ceiling and arched doorways.
A fenced patio along Main Street has tables shaded by large umbrellas for another 16 guests. Facing Nebraska Avenue is a brick patio with tables for another 40, some under roof, others under arbor and still others under umbrellas, with ceiling fans and a tinkling lion's head water fountain and flowering vines and bushes giving the feel of a tropical haven.
One other thing: Be sure to visit the powder rooms, each of them with its own special hand-painted murals (look for the black cats lurking in the bamboo in the men's room) and decorator items.
As for the food, Juan keeps close watch.
"What I don't actually cook, I supervise and make sure it's my recipes that are done," he said.
IF YOU GO:
Juan's Black Bean Cafe
Located at 5706 Main St., New Port Richey (main entrance on Nebraska Avenue).
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.
Parking on the street, in front of the restaurant or in the public parking lot behind Richey Suncoast Theatre. (Caution: Do NOT park between the restaurant and the Karl Reef, or you will be towed). Call (727) 844-0678.