For my husband and I, the sight of double cut pork chops smothered in mushroom sauce always brings a smile to our faces. This month will mark our sixth wedding anniversary, and in November, we’ll have made 11 years together. Eons ago, when John and I had first begun to date, we tried hard to surprise one another with thoughtful gifts and memorable eating experiences. One Valentine’s Day, we drove down to SoHo for dinner. I had scoured the internet for a great Cuban restaurant in New York City and my research led me to Cafe Habana. Not only were the reviews promising, but upon further reading, I learned Cafe Habana was a fusion of Cuban and Mexican cuisine. This little fact caught my attention immediately. John is Mexican and I’m half Cuban. I took it as a sign that we were meant to eat there.
It took about 45 minutes to make the trip from White Plains to lower Manhattan. Armed with MapQuest directions, I played co-pilot while John navigated the car through the city. When we finally found our way to the corner of Prince and Elizabeth streets, John was the first to spot Cafe Habana. My jaw nearly dropped. The place was a hole in the wall. Literally. Bohemians were spilling out the door of this un-spectacular, teeny restaurant. I remember groaning and slumping down into my seat. Despite my protests, John parked the car and we made our way down the block. I suggested we find somewhere else to eat, somewhere that looked a little more substantial, but John convinced me to at least peer through the window. We stood on the sidewalk, watching the restaurant patrons. It was like observing sardines in a can. Tables were crammed together and people were practically sitting on one another’s laps. Next to me, I heard a gasp. I looked over at John, who was staring through the window with wide eyes. “It’s my corn!” he said. I followed his gaze. Inside, a couple were sharing a plate of corn on the cob. When a look of confusion passed over my face, John explained that in Mexico, street vendors sell corn on the cob, or elotes, with crema, cotija cheese, chili powder and lime. “We have to eat here,” he said firmly. So, we did.
Even after all these years, I can still remember our first meal at Cafe Habana. It was the first of many. We shared a plate of grilled corn, which was every bit as delicious as John promised it would be. We each ordered the same entree, Chuleta de Puerco a la Pimenta, which turned out to be grilled, double-cut pork chops in a mushroom and chipotle au poivre sauce. Putting it mildly, this pork chop blew our mind. The pork was juicy and flavorful, cooked perfectly. The sauce had just the right amount of spice to cut through the creaminess. It was heaven.
It’s been five years since we made the move from New York to Connecticut. I love the quiet and calmness of living on the Connecticut countryside. If there’s one thing I miss, one thing, it’s Cafe Habana. After that Valentine’s Day so many years ago, Cafe Habana became “our” spot. John and I shared our secret place with few and far between. Somehow, bringing other people there made it less special. Once, after finding out some friends of ours had eaten there, we admitted to being a bit envious. Silly, right?
Since trekking to SoHo is no longer an option for us, especially with a three year old, I decided to attempt to recreate “the” pork chop. After a bit of experimentation and tweaking, I was finally thrilled with the results. For a true Cafe Habana experience at home, serve with frozen mango margaritas, tostones con mojo, rice and beans. Prepare to die and float to heaven.
Double-Cut Pork Chops Smothered in Chipotle Mushroom Sauce
What You’ll Need:
4 pork chops, 1-inch thick, bone-in
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
parsley, for garnish
Put the flour in a shallow pan, add the salt and pepper, then mix with a fork. Pat the pork chops dry with a paper towel, then dredge them in the seasoned flour. Shake off any excess.
Heat a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat and coat with olive oil. Fry the pork chops for about 4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove the pork chops from the pan and set to the side. Add more oil to the pan, if needed. Toss the sliced mushrooms to the pan and saute for 10 minutes. Sprinkle some of the seasoned flour into the pan and cook for one minute. Add the chipotle peppers and chicken stock. Let the liquid cook for 5 minutes, allowing it to reduce and thicken slightly. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon black pepper into the sauce, more if you like it very peppery. Add the heavy cream and return the pork chops to the pan. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the pork chops are cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Serve and enjoy.