Havana South Restaurant and Bar is just off I-985 and exit 4, to the west maybe one block, just south of Buford Drive. I’d call it a little place but it isn’t small, really. My recollection is a bar, and maybe 10-15 tables and booths. However, this not-so-large restaurant does a lot of things right, including its outsized effect on your taste buds.

Entrance to Havana South.

Entrance to Havana South.

We dropped by for lunch. After a few minutes with the menu, I chose the black bean soup and a Cuban sandwich, and my daughter chose their masitas puerco. Maduros (sweet plantains, fried) came with the Cuban.

I have to say, the more I have black beans, the more I like them. They are earthier in flavor than kidney beans or pinto beans, and Havana South’s bean soup did not disappoint:

Black bean soup.

Black bean soup.

My daughter’s dish contained large chunks of marinated pork, a side of black beans, and yellow rice.

Masitas Puerco

Masitas Puerco

The serving size I’d judge as large. The pork was really good, crispy and chewy on the outside, soft, hinting of the marinade inside. Everything on her plate was the opposite of plain. The beans had flavors that just baking won’t give, hints of onions and other influences I couldn’t entirely tease out, but mixing well with the dark flesh of the beans. I thought her beans were even better than my bean soup. The yellow rice came across the same way, a full body of flavors, more than just something simmered in a pot.

The Cuban I liked as well.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

Cuban sandwich and maduros, fried sweet plantains.

The sandwich was made with good quality bread, and had a nice balance between the pork and ham. The pickles and cheese only added to the flavor mix and the serving size was large. The maduros were good and sweet, though I know my wife, who likes most things well done, would prefer her maduros a little crunchier.  That said, I’m pretty sure I could take her here.

In short, the meal was great. The only thing I’d do differently if I came back again is get the side of black beans. In my opinion, they’re better than the soup.

Service was very good throughout the meal.

Verdict: Quality food with flavors that surprise on almost every bite. Staples done exceptionally well. Very highly recommended.

Havana South Restaurant and Bar
4060 Buford Drive
Buford GA, 30518
(678) 546-2252

Havana South Cuban Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Chow Down Atlanta has an excellent review of Havana South. You might think she’s praising Havana South too much, but in my judgment, she’s actually on the mark.

ca 2:30pm — I have a pot of black beans simmering on the stove, I have done some shopping and have the stuff for pico de gallo (substituting jalapenos for serranos this time), and I have hard red wheat and red quinoa from Mother Nature’s Market soaking on the kitchen table.

Soaking: hard wheat on the left, red quinoa on the right.

Soaking: hard wheat on the left, red quinoa on the right.

I’m thinking along three lines: black beans and rice as the first dish, some pico de gallo, and then a mung bean soup, with some wheat and quinoa added to provide the grain component of the soup. Of these three, it’s with the black beans and rice that I’m winging it the most. Thankfully WordPress has a common tag named rice and beans.

I threw in some salt, marjoram, a bay leaf and a few cubes of ham after about an hour of simmering, just to see what it would do. It has improved the smell of the pot quite a bit. I want the beans soft though, and different recipes I’ve perused are giving different times to simmer. This recipe suggests an hour and a half (but no salt) and this one suggests (with salt) perhaps three hours.  I’ll note the cubes of ham seem to have disappeared by now, melted into the broth of the beans. This recipe looks fantastic, but I’d have to use the same stuff I want to use to make pico.

ca 3:45pm — The pico de gallo is now marinating in the refrigerator. The last batch really didn’t hit its peak of flavor until 2 days after mixing. Today, the tomatoes were huge, the green onion bunch was huge, and the japalenos were huge, so 3 tomatoes, 1 japaleno, 1/2 a yellow onion and a bit more cilantro this time. It’s amazing how much easier it is to mince cilantro when you have an idea of the right tools (this tool, or perhaps that tool) to use.

The beans are whole and soft and on low heat.. I’m trying to reduce the liquid the beans are in. In a lot of recipes I’ve seen so far, they save the bean liquor and use it to cook at other stages, but if we’re sticking to the principles of Louisiana red beans and rice, we’ll just mix beans and rice and some of the liquor as needed. Flavor should evolve in the dish if we just eat some today and save the rest in the fridge.

ca 4:45pm – black beans and rice are done.

The final result: a bowl of black beans and rice.

The final result: a bowl of black beans and rice.

I cooked the rice (1 cup) by first sauteeing it with a bit with celery ( 1 stick) , onion (1/2 smaller yellow onion) , garlic (2 cloves), and a handful of diced ham. I added water (2 cups) and let it simmer a bit (15 to 20 minutes). I forgot the lid and there were some losses, so I had to add more water as I cooked. The end product was good and soft, but a little sticky. The beans were well nigh perfect and the mixture quite edible. My family came home just as I finished. My daughter liked it, my wife decided it was good, but could use some spices.

I need to get my wife to teach me how to use the rice cooker.

ca 6:45pm — The black beans and rice ended up as half our dinner (smoked sausage being the other half). A single serving of bean and rice is all that is left.

ca 9:30pm — Today’s cooking is done.  But just before I started my daughter walked over to my quinoa and said, “Your quinoa is sprouting.”

My reaction was typical. “No it isn’t.”

“Come over here and see, it’s sprouting.”

And of course, my daughter was right. It’s what happens, I guess, when you soak quinoa almost 24 hours. I guess 4 hours is enough.

In any event, I had to precook the wheat for about half an hour, because I anticipated about 25 minutes of cooking for the mung beans, and wheat needs 45-60 minutes of cooking. I cut up a typical assortment of veggies.. 3 celery stalks, carrot sticks equivalent to a couple carrots,  1 yellow onion, 3 cloves of garlic, some remaining mini-pimentos, and the japaleno I didn’t put into the pico de gallo. I cooked the veggies in the pot in olive oil for 5-6 minutes and then added the wheat berries. Afterwards, I added mung beans and covered with about half an inch of water. In the pan I was cooking the wheat in, I added a quart of water and heated it while I cooked the rest (so I could add hot water as needed). 10 minutes after I started with the beans, I added the red quinoa, sprouts and all.

It took longer to cook (40 minutes, instead of the expected 25) than I expected, because I was keeping the heat low, and at times it was just under boiling.  At the end it began getting the color and consistency I like, so I then spiced (much the same as my red lentil soup):

1.5 teaspoons garam masala

0.75 tsp cumin

0.75 tsp coriander

0.75 tsp Jamaican curry powder

mixed peppers, from a grinder (12 twists)

marjoram, thyme, salt, salt substitute, red pepper to taste.

12 drops of a habanero-mango hot sauce.

The result looked something like this:

Mung bean, wheat berry, and red quinoa soup

Mung bean, wheat berry, and red quinoa soup

It’s a good tasting soup, and it’s going to be lunch for the next 3-4 days at work.

I had to work this weekend, and while coming home, decided to stop at the Gwinnett International Farmer’s Market and see if they had red lentils. Now I know that Return To Eden has red lentils; but they’re deep into Atlanta and not at all convenient to the northeast side of town I’m on. I will sometimes shop this farmer’s market because they are a good and cheap source of asian yams and kimchi. Also, if you really want the small single serving size of white rice, in microwave containers, they have them too.

When I went there, I was surprised at the variety and quality of fresh peppers they had on sale, and in general at the quantity of Central American and Caribbean foods they had on sale. There is an excellent collection of Japanese and Korean foodstuffs. There were some Thai spices and foods. I bought mung beans, and a can of coconut milk, to try later, and then sat for a long time in an aisle containing nothing but packaged dried beans. I had never seen the small red bean they called the “frijol rojo de seda“. Later I found it is sometimes called the “silky red bean”. I bought a package of those, to try later.

Mung Beans on the left, Central American red beans on the right.

Mung Beans on the left, Central American red beans on the right.

While looking for general advice on how to cook these things, I ran into this recipe for Drew’s Tres Meat Chili. So in the case of silky red beans, you treat them much like black beans, with an overnight soaking and a couple hours of cooking. Too bad. I’d love another legume that is as easy to cook as lentils.