One step into the Hola! café and you feel like you’re walking into a friend’s rustic kitchen. For me, home is where the coffee is and this tiny and roughly elegant café is my home a few mornings a week. Fairly new, having opened in 2013; it’s just off Center and 4th Ave in downtown Fernandina Beach. Has the look and atmosphere of a place the locals have been coming for years.
Step through the door and Anna greets you with a bright smile and a southern accent as friendly as a your next door neighbor’s.
Anna doesn’t own the place. That honor belongs to Chris Garcia and Marisol Triana. Both migrated from Miami and are the offspring of Cuban immigrants. Obviously, they share a love for Cuban culture. Photos and painting and bright Caribbean colors race up and down the walls inside and out on the veranda.
Subdued Cuban music plays, permitting normal conversation. Remember perhaps the most popular of all Cuban music, Guantanamera? Know what it means? Read on.
I go for the coffee, which includes an array from espresso to cortadito to café con leche. The last two are espressos served in medium to large cups, with milk and often a toss or two of sugar. All are rich and powerful, but not bitter, which is a pleasant surprise after torturing my taste buds with Seattle’s Gimme-yer-Bucks.
And as far as food goes, try one of the many versions of empanadas, or a Cuban sandwich, or a Media Noche (midnight), any of which give your mouth a joy it won’t soon forget. If you’re here in the morning, you may want to try the breakfast empanadas. Glutton that I am, I’ve tried them all and loved them all and want more of them all.
Not sure which to choose? Anna can help. She takes the order, makes the coffee, and arranges for the hunger killers, which come from a tiny kitchen behind the counter. Ever had Cuban bread? No need to describe it, just taste it on one of the pressed sandwiches. Gotta have one, and be sure to dose your choice with mojo sauce. There are also sweet and savory versions of pastelitos (little pastries). Don’t quite understand? No prob. Once again, Anna is ready to help.
Not sure about the bread, but everything else, from the shredded pork to the scrumptious black bean soup is house made.
This morning I tried a cheese Pastelito. Sounds like some thing savory, but instead, it’s a crispy, flakey pastry, filled with something close to cheesecake. Taste one and you’ll want another.
Many times I’ve heard from other patrons, “My gosh, I’ve never had anything like this!” Delicious is one way to describe the food, but better words are: habit forming.
My companion and I usually each order a cortadito and split an empanada. Ok, I confess: My name is Bill and I am a Cuba-holic.
Yes, I promised. Guantánamera means a cute and pretty woman from Cuba’s Guantánamo Province.