Cuba Good'un

They say life isn't fair, and I believe it's true. Take you and me, for instance. You're an industrious, upright and responsible member of your community, and I'm a slothful, apathetic and frequently overhung social parasite, and yet, between the two of us, I'm the one the gods smile upon. Why, just look at this morning. When your alarm blared you back to consciousness, you leapt from bed, stumbling over yesterday's shirt and shoes and painfully twisting your ankle. Every nerve ending in your eyeballs flailed about in panic as you turned on the lights, causing you to fumble blindly in the bathroom cabinet, and subsequently lacerate your gums with what turned out not to be your toothbrush. Blood-spattered and half dressed, you raced through the kitchen, grabbing a cold Pop Tart and a warm can of Pepsi, which you ate while stuck in traffic, en route to your cozy (some would say claustrophobic) little cube. I, meanwhile, was still snoozing blissfully, awakening later — much, much later — to the happy chattering of little green parrots in the palm trees outside my window. After a relaxing soak in the tub, I wandered about, sipping a cup of freshly brewed espresso and leisurely trying on this work outfit and that before settling on ripped cutoffs and a chic black T-shirt, which will proclaim throughout the day that whoever I'm with lacks intellectual prowess. (To someone as gifted as myself, merely walking among the rabble feels like "I'm With Stupid.") Thus properly attired for work, I braved the 10 a.m. traffic and headed out on my grueling quest for a damn good breakfast, or at the very least, one I wouldn't have to complain about too awfully much.

Luckily, Cuban Delight Cafe opens at 10 a.m., and there I found my damn good breakfast, though the menu disingenuously lists it under the heading "Lunch Specials." It's the Spanish omelet ($4.25): a frittata-like affair mixing eggs, finely sliced potatoes, ham and seasonings into a "tortilla" (the Spanish word for omelet) the size of a dinner plate. It comes with a large bowl of rice, white or yellow, and some of the best black beans around, as well as a thick slice of good Cuban bread from El Segundo, surely the best Cuban bakery around. I ordered a side of Cuban toast too, which added 75 cents. Sip a strong, creamy cup of cafe con leche for $1.50 and you've got a meal that beats the hell out of Pop Tarts and Pepsi with its hands tied behind its back.

"So what?" you're thinking. "I could get that at a thousand places in Tampa." Ah! But the "delight" in the name of this Cuban cafe, you see, is that it's not in Tampa but in a quiet little corner of St. Petersburg better known for chicken wings and burgers than for melt-in-your-mouth marinated roast pork or savory ropa vieja. Cuban cuisine is still an oddity here, but I predict it will become a neighborhood favorite once word of Cuban Delight gets around.

Lucy-and-Desi-type married couple Trish and Nelson Guerra ("Tell them I'm the only American in the place!" yells Trish) opened Cuban Delight about three months ago and hired Alfredo Gil as their chef. Alfredo hails from the same province in Cuba as Nelson, though the two never met there. Alfredo is a chef of considerable skill, having inaugurated the kitchen of the luxurious Las Teca Hotel before leaving his homeland. He brings to St. Petersburg an authentic style of Cuban cuisine untainted by Americanization. His cooking is "criollo" he states proudly, a Cuban colloquialism meaning "everything homemade from scratch." Indeed, the seasoning in his food is subtle and aromatic, without the overly salty flavor of commercial seasoning mixes. You'll find sprigs of fresh herbs in the black beans and garbanzos, and the freshly made marinade brings marvelous flavor to the succulent roast pork. A huge platter of excellent roast pork, served with potato-like yucca and sweet, butter-soft, golden fried plantains ($7.95) will either overstuff you or provide a second day's lunch of leftovers.

Other menu favorites include a good, Ybor-style Cuban sandwich ($3.95) and traditional hot dishes like ropa vieja ($8.45) the dish whose shredded beef reminded Cubans of "ragged clothes," thus inspiring the name. This is Cuban comfort food, savory and satisfying, served with a Cuban-style tamale and those good fried plantains. Steak palomilla ($7.95) is a thinly sliced cut of beef chuck, marinated with olive oil, garlic and spices before being grilled and topped with sauteed onions, then served with tasty black beans, rice, yucca and plantains. This plain Jane cafe offers little in the way of atmosphere, but the food is cheap, delicious and served in generous quantities. On my Scrabble board, that's spells "Delight."

Readers' Rave: Got a fave rave? Gimme the fax! Fax your rave to Bonnie Boots at 813-248-9999. Here's what Judy Hayes of Largo and her sister Connie Gonzalez say: "We've eaten at almost every Thai restaurant in the area and found Thai Basil to be the very best, with consistently excellent food and service. Owners Lay and Lilly are most friendly and helpful in selecting ... something for every palate. They have a complimentary appetizer with your lunch selection, and portions for lunch and dinner are generous." Thai Basil is at 4445 E. Bay Drive, Largo (727-532-6108). Lunch is served 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and dinner is 4:40-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday.