Launching a new restaurant is challenging in the best of times. Having to face an unseen pandemic immediately after opening your doors has to be extremely daunting. Fortunately, Oreste and Geraldine Perez have what it takes to face this feat. Their new venture, Caribe Blue, brings the flavors of Latin Caribbean cuisine to the heart of downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Their launch in early 2020 happened right before the shutdown, but offering a robust carryout menu has helped. They have been gaining traction in the Strawberry Hill area and word is getting out in the rest of the metro.
The Strawberry Hill neighborhood started in the 1870s as Splitlog Hill. The majority of the land was originally owned by Mathias Splitlog, who would later parcel it up to create a new subdivision. Even today, this early pioneer is remembered by local businesses like Splitlog Coffee. A heavy Catholic presence settled into the hill area, and an assortment of parishes would dot the region. The early 1900s saw an influx of Slavs and a new group of churches were erected. One of these now serves as the Strawberry Hill Museum, which highlights the contributions of these new residents. In more recent times, the area has seen a new round of immigrants moving in and bringing their unique flavors to the neighborhood.
Latin Caribbean Influence
Our familiarity with Latin Caribbean cuisine is extremely limited. Besides some dishes we sampled during a Royal Caribbean cruise, our experiences have been sampling various Cuban sandwiches during our travels. After scanning the menus, we finally broke down and asked Geraldine for suggestions. She was more than happy to walk us through some of the more popular dishes. Even my non-stop questions didn’t phase her and soon we had made our selections. When we discussed how the business has been, she explained that it started slow but they have been gaining traction lately.
There are a couple of flavors that are sure bets for Crystal. I can almost always count on her ordering a chicken dish, and if there is avocado on the menu she will find it. Sure enough, with the assistance of Geraldine, she honed in on the Chicken Jibarito. This Puerto Rican dish is made with grilled chicken breast laid out on a plantain bun. Topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo ketchup, and a creamy avocado sauce. The picture does not truly relay the size of this substantial sammie. Crystal was lucky to finish half of her meal and looked forward to having the second one for lunch leftovers.
I have never shied away from an opportunity to sample a Cubano Sandwich, wherever we travel. I believe there are few people who have sampled more versions of this classic handheld since I will almost always order it if I see it on a menu. At Caribe Blue, they make theirs with some amazingly delicious pulled pork. I mean, this is the kind of smoky meat that melts in your mouth and keeps you coming back for more. When you add in the sliced ham, melted Swiss cheese, spicy mustard, and pickles, it just makes this all the more enticing. Oh, and yes it is all sandwiched inside a toasted Cuban bread bun. A side of sweet plantains paired perfectly with my meal.
Supporting Local Business
The downside to businesses due to the pandemic is something that no one saw coming. We have tried to do as much as we can to help support our local small businesses. Locally owned restaurants, like Caribe Blue, operate on a pencil-thin budget under normal circumstances. These past few months have been a struggle, but each day finds them gaining traction in a city filled with great dining options. We hope that you will stop by and give them a try. Who knows, Latin Caribbean cuisine may be as new of an experience for you as it was for us. Even if you are well versed in these dishes, you are sure to find a flavor that pleases you.
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