When you think of your favorite types of sandwiches, what comes to mind? A great BLT? How about lean roast beef and Swiss? Well one of my favorites sandwiches is the classic Cuban sandwich! Ham and roast pork layered with pickles, Swiss and mustard pressed together for a melty, cheesey bite. And out in Durham, the Old Havana Sandwich Shop was a great spot to get an authentic Cuban sandwich. Unfortunately for lovers of Cuban sandwiches, they shut down this past February but left a silver lining in the clouds. The owners of Old Havana Sandwich Shop would be opening up a new restaurant a month later, right down the street as COPA! Yeah, and they’d be serving up Cuban sandwiches and much more in the larger space. I managed to get in and dine at COPA for a couple of meals and it’s off to a great start! Read on for the details, mi amigo…
If you’ve been in the area a while, you’ll recognize COPA’s new space as the old Revolution restaurant. But once inside, be prepared for a shock. What used to be a modern, plush and upscale interior has been drastically transformed into a Cuban cafe! Owners Roberto and Elizabeth have done a total refresh on the space, similar to their dearly departed Havana Sandwich Shop. From the weathered wood plank floors, hanging glass-blown lamps to the sea-green paint, COPA has a classic Caribbean feel to the place. And given I’ve never been to Cuba, I can’t attest to its exact authenticity in decor but I’m guessing it’s pretty close to what you might run into on the island. Overall the space is quite open, bright and comfortable, it’s now time to eat!
Much like their old sandwich shop, COPA has a smaller and tighter menu in their attempt to bring traditional Cuban eats to the area. You’ll find a variety of Cuban sandwiches filled with roast pork, ham, cheese and other goodies along with some small plates on their dinner menu. COPA also offers a nice selection of period Cuban cocktails, expertly mixed to pair with your meals. One new option is a modified brunch menu available on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 2:30pm. It’s good to see COPA taking full advantage of their new space with these expanded offerings!
During my first lunch visit, I had a chance to sample their patatas bravas and a traditional Havana Cuban sandwich! The Havana is a pressed sandwich layered with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard on Guglhupf bakery bread. An excellent bite and a standard from the old Old Havana Sandwich Shop! Served with thin-sliced plantain chips, it makes for a hearty meal. Paired with a nice plate of papas bravas (fried potato wedges served with aioli), you’ve got a great lunch on your hands. However, these offerings are pretty much holdovers from the previous Old Havana Sandwich Shop menu so I was really curious to see what they could do with the new menu. Which meant I needed to get back for dinner!
For visit #2 at COPA, I sat at the lovely triangular bar, topped with a speckled stone-concrete surface. It was a chance to try out their cocktail menu and the classic Cuban daiquiri. Loved this drink served up in a classic art-deco glass, a daiquiri is typically composed of rum, juice and a sweetener which is shaken with ice. A perfect start for dinner!
Moving on the main meal, I started off with the pan de chicarrones which is FAN-tastic! A thick, rustic yellow bread studded with crunch pieces of pork belly (chicarron) makes for a wonderful bite. Served with some olive oil, you could nearly make a meal out of this appetizer alone. But what a shame that would be given the rest of the menu to try!
As a small plate, the arroz con pollo at COPA is served up in a little porcelain-cast iron dish, offering up a seared chicken drumstick and flat on a bed of deep yellow rice. It’s like a simple mini-paella to me with the toothsome and chewy rice paired with perfectly seared chicken. A small and wonderful treat in a bowl!
Given the newness of COPA they are probably still working out kinks in their operations but service was solid for both of my visits at the bar. Overall I am pretty satisfied with COPA and what it is trying to do here. While I always enjoyed their Cuban sandwiches, the addition of these small plates are really a game-changer in my opinion. The larger menu allows COPA to be a great restaurant choice versus being a good cafe. And I love the fact that they are sticking with more authentic options on their menu since Caribbean cuisine is not common in the Triangle. Maybe one day I’ll get to visit Havana, Cuba but until then, a dinner at COPA will have to do, buen provecho!