The Black Bean brings Cuban to 'Burgh outpost
If you were trying to expand a small chain of Cuban restaurants, Pittsburgh probably isn't an obvious place to start.
There aren't a lot of Cubans here, for starters. Of course, that doesn't mean that Cuban food can't work here -- its unique blend of Caribbean, Spanish and African cuisines is distinctive, but quite accessible to even less-adventurous eaters. It's just that there isn't a built-in market for it.
The Black Bean mini-chain's first location outside of Florida landed in the Steel City largely due to a personal connection.
"We have a friend -- he's the actual franchise guy from Florida," says Lanie Chen, who owns the Black Bean with her husband. "He thought he wanted to spread it out to more of the country than Florida. If you've been to Florida, you'll see a lot of Cuban restaurants."
"We have a little chain in Pittsburgh (Flamers Charbroiled Chicken and Burgers), and have had other restaurants. Since he knows we're good franchise people, he wanted us to try it in Pittsburgh. We were like, 'OK, let's try it!' "
They picked Oakland for the diversity of its student population, starting out in a hard-to-find location on Semple Street. Quickly, demand indicated they would need a bigger space, so they moved to Atwood Street.
The Black Bean isn't much to look at. Up a short, well-worn flight of stairs is a long, thin, barebones room, with only a few hand-painted Cuban travel posters for color. In the back, there's another small room with a dance floor, blaring Cuban music at dinnertime.
The food, however, more than makes up for it.
"People who know Cuban food come down and love it, especially the Cuban students," Chen says. "They're like, 'Oh, this tastes like a homecooked meal from my grandma.'"
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the classic meaty Cuban ($6.95) sandwich seems to be the runaway hit, piled with bolo ham, seasoned pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, pressed tightly inside long, thin, crispy flat bread. Another top seller is the Veggie Cuban ($5.95), which features bell peppers, pickles, cucumbers, garlic butter, lettuce and tomatoes and a special tangy sauce. A Media Noche ($5.95) is a Cuban served on a distinctive sweet bread.
Other customers have warmed up to some of the more unusual items on the menu. Yuca Con Mojo ($3.95), for instance, is boiled yuca (Cassava root), cut into steak fries, soaked in sour orange juice mojo sauce, topped with fresh garlic and onions. Another favorite appetizer is Papas Rellenas ($2.95) -- mashed potato and seasoned ground beef balls, fried until golden.
"To learn how to cook the food is very simple," Chen says. "But there's some things you can't really find in Pittsburgh. When we're out of something, we're out."
"Soon we'll have a liquor license," Chen says. "We're planning on selling six-packs and hope to have a bar once we get a bartender."
The dance floor in the back may also start to get some business, soon.
"We're planning on Fridays and Saturdays, having a DJ up there -- and opening later, until 2:30 in the morning," Chen says.Additional Information:
The Black Bean
Location: 239 Atwood St., Oakland.
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. daily. Major credit cards are accepted.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Machine operator avoids serious injuries in accident in North Huntingdon
- York man, 21, accused of assaulting Indiana Borough police officer
- Person rescued from McKees Rocks fire
- Rescuers carry injured person up hillside near Phipps Conservatory
- ‘1954’: A glimpse of baseball drama
- Water service restored to CMU campus
- Google grants teachers’ school supply wishes
- Indiana Regional Medical Center marks centennial with book, campus addition
- Hospitals turn to technology to tear down language barriers with patients
- Pirates find a bridge at end of baseball world in Holdzkom
- Brush Valley club members promote interest in antique tractors