While crocodiles are considered an endangered species in Cuba, after a quick web search it’s apparent the reptile there is not quite as rare as an authentic Cuban restaurant on Long Island.
Longtime Long Beach resident Marivi Wolfe opened the Cuban Crocodile last month in the city, at 26 E. Park Ave., one of the few restaurants of its kind east of Brooklyn and Queens.
On the surface, the Cuba Crocodile appears to be just another Latin restaurant with classic dishes like empanadas and ceviche; however, it doesn’t take long to see that Wolfe has done something that is just a little more special. Everything from the old Cuban money, cigar bands and dominoes sealed under the glass casing around the bar, right down to the light plates and door knobs were all put in place to make patrons feel like their eating in pre-revolutionary Cuba, circa 1959.
“To me this is Cuba,” said Wolfe, who was born and raised in Astoria by her Cuban immigrant parents. “I tried really hard to avoid that Disney-esque type of feel when I was designing,” she explained.
Many of the dishes on the menu were taken directly from an 1800’s cookbook brought over with some of the first Spanish immigrants to Cuba, tweaked to how her family used to make these classic dishes.
A Cuban staple, The Ropa Veija, which in translation means a bunch of old clothes, may sound unappetizing, but the traditional dish consisting of shredded beef, cooked with garlic, onions, bell peppers, wine and tomato sauce is fast becoming a popular dish.
“I’m in the kitchen, on the line, I’m the prep cook, I'm the recipe maker and the menu maker,” Wolfe said. “Nobody should own a restaurant unless it’s their life; day in and day out.”
Many of the dishes are dedicated to Wolfe’s Cuban relatives. Gambas Al Ajillo, a shrimp in garlic and wine sauce, is a dish her uncle Fernando made every summer when Wolfe was a child. The Tortilla Espanola, Spanish omelet potatoes with chorizo, onions and green peppers, was her aunt Hilda’s favorite dish; and the Pargo Santiaguero, or Silver Fox, is a dish dedicated to her father.
“My father’s favorite food in the whole world is red snapper, and the Silver Fox was his nickname,” she explained. “To me that’s the most Cuban I can get because it’s my dad’s favorite dish.”
Even the drink menu sheds a little contemporary flavor on the restaurant’s traditional Cuban character; offering an assortment of Cuban cosmos, coconut martinis and a unique take on the Cuba Libre also titled The Silver Fox. “That was my father’s drink,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe has poured her heart into the restaurant. “I think you can feel that in the place and the food,” she added.