Quick Bites: Authentic Cuban At The Copacabana

According to one diner who posted on urbanspoon.com, “Copacabana is off the beaten path but worth finding in the quaint little town of Mount Dora.” Sporting the same name as the famous New York nightclub that opened in 1940, the popular Barry Manilow song, and a town in Colombia, Copacabana is a must-try!

Owners Alberto Paneca and Antonio Reyes opened the restaurant in late April after working together for 10 years. Reyes, already a Mexican restaurant owner, saw potential in Paneca’s Cuban cooking, and today, Copacabana truly a multi-family operation. Located in Mount Dora at 320 Dora Dawdry Way, the restaurant is worth looking for in the historic district, just around the corner from the Thomas Kinkade Gallery.

On my visit, my guest and I enjoyed Cuban bread with a platter of appetizers that included a delicious pork tamale, a papa rellena (a round, breaded mashed potato stuffed with ground beef Créole) and two empanadas, one chicken and one beef.

For the entrée, our server, Julie, who is also Paneca’s daughter, brought us pernil (Cuban-style roast pork seasoned with their own special mojo), fried plantains, rice (you can choose either white, yellow, or moro), and yucca. The pork was extremely tender, served with grilled onions and an olive oil and garlic dressing. My guest and I agreed, however, the hot pica sauce better complemented the meat and other served items.

The pica sauce, a smooth blend of peppers and dairy, would not offend even a sensitive palate. It was spicy enough to add zip to any dish but not offensively scorching to ruin the rest of your meal should you use too much of it. We suggested the owners bottle and sell it. Julie admitted that they’re already considering it.

For dessert, we split a flan, a rich custard with a layer of soft caramel on top. I cut it in half to only eat my share but when my guest was not looking, I snuck a spoonful here and there. It was that good.

We finished up with Cuban coffee, which Julie says is an aphrodisiac in Cuba. I’d never heard that before but much like espresso, I reasoned that sipping caffeine in the evening has kept many couples up late into the night.

Copacabana serves imported and domestic beer. They also serve breakfast Wednesday through Sunday from 7:30am to 10:00am, including Cuban toast, traditional Cuban sandwiches pressed and cut diagonally, and traditional American dishes, too. The menu is extensive and I’ve posted it on urbanspoon.com. The service was great and our drinks stayed filled. Call (352) 385-9000 for Copacabana’s lunch and dinner hours, plus daily specials.

Nibbles:Louie’s Oyster Bar on 19A and 441 in Mount Dora has closed. The new owner, a restaurateur and manager of ‘80s band White Lion, is opening K & C Oyster Bar. Says the new owner, “It’s going to have a sports theme throughout, with an oyster bar inside and out.” Other new openings include Tandoor Indian in Leesburg’s Lake Square Mall and Siam Orchid Thai Cuisine in The Villages. More on these restaurants in the next issue.

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