I like a good Cuban sandwich. Actually, if I could eat a Cuban sandwich every day without the pesky side effects of chronic heart disease and obesity, I would probably eat three of them for breakfast and two more for dessert. When I recently learned that a Cuban bar and restaurant named was tucked away in the vast garbage-strewn blocks of storage units and wholesale sheet metal distributors down by the Navy Yard, my heart skipped a beat. I was as excited as a schoolboy.
As I sipped at the namesake highball and inhaled the sandwich I had been dreaming about all week, I nearly began to cry. Discovering a quality drinking hole in a previously untapped neighborhood is a bit like taming a wild mustang on the great Western plains. For a heavy drinker, the occasion promises new potential that should be accompanied by a brass band and a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The prospect of a good meal at Mojito was not always so promising. The joint was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” (available free on Hulu.com) in early 2010. The episode delivers high-octane behind-the-scenes hysterics, a case study in bad service, and poignant insight into the dangers of marrying a business partner, all told through the lens of a nearly operatic Latin drama.
“I watch that show and laugh,” said bartender Erik Baragan, “I wasn’t working here back then, but things are very different now.”
Indeed, the restaurant felt clean, relaxed and the service was impeccable, a far cry from the primetime drama a year ago. Even Chef Ramsay noted the improvement upon revisiting later in the season. It seems that owners Marcello Arias and Catalina Velez managed to set aside their differences and save a business with undeniable potential.
In true Brooklyn form, the staff hails from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Poland, Israel and Mexico, but not a single Cuban stands among them. Nevertheless, the cuisine is tasty and the bar offers nearly a dozen variations on the traditional mojito, a list that will require detailed inspection throughout the rest of the summer.
With the recent closure of the Navy Yard Cocktail Lounge, a notoriously creepy strip club down the block, and the announcement that Steiner Studios plans to nearly double their operation, Mojito seems poised to take advantage of a growing, yet captive audience down on the waterfront. With new restaurants opening regularly in the Wallabout neighborhood, Mojito is now an old veteran with only seven years of business under its belt.
It seems fitting that this week’s subject was able to provide a well-documented glimpse into the hardships that are inevitably associated with any business dream that involves large volumes of time, money, passion and booze. As a reviewer, it is easy to forget that every bar is a labor of love and should be acknowledged as such. Sometimes that respect is harder to muster than one would expect.
Mojito's is located at 275 Park Ave, between Washington and Waverly avenues. Hours are Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 11 a.m. to midnight.