TERRY’S PICKY PALATE /A BBQ Brisket Sandwich and Con Leche at Tony’s Mini Cafe at the Southernmost Shell station

BY TERRY SCHMIDA
I’ve loved brisket sandwiches since my salad days as a college student in Montreal in the early ’90s.
In that era I was dining almost daily at the city’s famed Jewish delicatessens, such as Schwartz’s, and the product in question was known as “smoked meat.”
The briskets were covered in a spice mixture (not unlike the Montreal steak seasoning you can buy at grocery stores,) then marinated, smoked, and placed in a steam table for hours until it achieved a taste and consistency like pastrami – but richer.
At the time I had no idea of the central place brisket occupies in the tradition of American barbecue.
It’s been a happy revelation to discover the cut’s popularity here in the South; it’s been an even happier discovery that perhaps the best brisked sandwich in town is located not far from my house, at Tony’s Mini Cafe, in the Southernmost Shell station, 1900 N. Roosevelt Blvd.
Upon my arrival proprietor Tony Estenoz informed me that I was right on time, as he prepares his brisket on “BBQ Fridays” to serve all week long.
“I use a rub that’s my own secret recipe,” Estenoz said. “Then I smoke it out back for 12 hours. It turns out perfect, just a gorgeous piece of meat.”
He wasn’t kidding!
This was ambrosial barbecued brisket with a decidedly Cuban Conch twist. The sliced meat was heated on a grill, then stacked on Cuban bread with grilled onions, just a touch of barbecue sauce, and Estenoz’ homemade sweet-and-spicy pickle chips. A minute or so on in a hot sandwich press, and voila! The masterpiece was served, with a smattering of potato sticks on the side.
To wash it down, I ordered a Cafe Con Leche over ice, on this hot August day.
One bite of the brisket was all it took to make a believer out of me. The meat was tender and savory, with just the right amount of fat, and just enough sauce to bring out the flavor of the meat, without obscuring it.
Estenoz smiled at my obvious pleasure and confessed that the brisket was his favorite menu item as well.
“Obviously I like all our sandwiches, as they’re all my own recipes,” he said. “But once you’ve had our brisket, you might not want to go back to the ribs.”
Estenoz may be right about that, but given the quality of my sandwich, I’ll most certainly be heading back to try the ribs . . . and the chicken . . . and the pulled pork . . . and everything else on the menu!
The Con Leche was wonderful, too.
So take your taste buds for a ride and drive on up to Tony’s Mini Cafe. You’ll be glad you did!
Tony’s Mini Cafe is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays. Credit cards are accepted and free delivery is available throughout Key West and Stock Island. Some dine-in seating is available.
For more information, call 305-292-3309, or visit http://www.keywestshell.com/#about