Ah! Not too many folks can tell you positive things about Summer in Miami. I mean, it’s oppressively hot and monsoon-soaked, not to mention the constant threat of tropical cyclones are always looming somewhere off the African coast and drifting toward our general area this time of year. But, in Little Havana, there’s a little oasis that wears the off-season quite well: Los Pinareños Fruteria. It’s a rustic slice of western rural Cuba, with a friendly pig, roosters, chickens, et al…
I’m definitely not the first person to write/blog about this little open-air fruit shop on Calle Ocho which has earned a whopping 4-1/2 out of 5 rating on Yelp via user reviews and a Best Mamey milkshake from the Miami New Times. But, I have yet to find anything on the web really detailing the outstanding quality of the home-grown tropical fruit found at Pinareños, particularly during these rainy season months.
Sure, Miami Culinary Tours (I actually love the concept behind that company) will pass through the place and tout the guarapo (freshly squeezed sugar cane juice), because that’s pretty much the only reason why they stop there, but when you have a tropical fruit encyclopedia in Angel Hernandez Jr. who manages the shop along with his parents, Guillermina & Angel Sr., the owners for over 45 years now, visitors should (and do) walk out knowing a lot more than they ever did about Miami’s subtropical harvests.
The location itself has a long and storied past (as does the Hernandez clan), but that is reserved for one of my tours. In the meantime, I will tell you that the avocados, mameys and mangoes that are currently stocked at the Fruteria are among the finest I have ever tasted; the mangoes, in particular, have to top my personal all-time list. I grew up with tropical fruit trees in my back yard in Miami Shores: an enormous avocado tree, a mango tree, a papaya tree, several plantain trees and a guanabana (soursop tree). So, when I met Angel Jr a couple of years ago, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical whenever he would see me and proudly announce that he has the best this or the best that in the southeastern U.S., or wherever. After all, he’s a merchant and merchants actively sell products, right?
Well, I’m afraid he’s right… In fact, he usually doesn’t say anything if it isn’t the very best available anywhere else in the country!
The mangoes that I have been consistently tasting here this past month are grown from specific growers in Homestead or the Redlands area of Miami-Dade County (about 25 miles southwest of Miami) and the flavors so complex that they literally take my taste buds through a delightful trip, encompassing my childhood and new, unexplored regions of my palate that I’m so grateful to have found.
I’m not one to usually wax poetic, but this is really something THAT special…! The slight bitterness near the skin and around the seed are merely present to offset the copious sweetness of the cheeks of one of these fully-ripened mangoes. For the first time in my life, I have detected undertones of honey or some sort of syrupy taste that I have never, ever gotten from this fruit and the exuberant amount of juice that explodes out of its flesh is enough to ruin any appetite in the most beautiful, nurturing way possible.
I’ve been a bit spooked, quite frankly, because this was part of a second harvest within a relatively short time span (an early harvest occurred because of an unusually warm Dry Season which prompted early budding this year—the first harvest was nowhere near as good, as the fruit was mostly bitter, or just not as sweet as I prefer. They told me it was because of the lack of rain); spooked because of the Hernandez’s ominous warning about a multiple harvest season. They purport that multiple harvests are an indicator of impending famine or extreme hardship. I scoured the Internet to see if this is a widely-held belief in the Caribbean (or anywhere else, for that matter) and I’ve found nothing. But I certainly fear doubting these folks… After all, they’re spot-on with everything else they peddle in this Calle Ocho landmark.
Reviewers and blogs have mentioned the fact that you can get all sorts of fantastic juices blended on the spot there, but they’ve never cited “El Caribeño,” a perfect amalgamation of watermelon, papaya, carrot, sugar cane juice and ginger on ice… It blows my mind away just keying this in and remembering the general state of well-being that that concoction puts me in every time I have the pleasure of drinking it!
Occasionally, they do have some exotic fruit present. Apples, for instance, are among them. But this last time I went, Angel Jr presented me with those curious red, hairy little balls known as “Rambutan,” which are essentially Malaysian lychees (this batch was imported from Costa Rica). They weren’t bad at all and I’m glad I took a few home with me, but the native fruit is pretty much the only thing I come here for.
Lastly, I can’t say enough about our Miami avocados and how I feel that they are the very best on Earth (though totally under-publicized—sure, some know them as SlimCados because they are always less fat and fewer calories than their California counterparts, but that Hass variety has had way too much pub and they are way overrated!), but I would have to leave that for another post.
You and I will sample the mameys there…
Check out these videos on Mamey and Avocados grown in Miami-Dade County by the consortium of farmers in the area known as Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida; many of the groves featured there are where Pinareños‘ amazing fruit in the cardboard crates originate. Though, there’s really no replacement for an afternoon visit to this one-of-a-kind locale in Miami’s Little Havana.
Oh… Don’t forget the Coco Frio!
–Ralph de la Portilla