Calle Ocho intersects Douglas Road just a few miles north of Coconut Grove, so it doesn’t take Xavier long to get to his family’s favorite Cuban restaurant for Thanksgiving breakfast. He would have been only thirty minutes late if it weren’t for a last minute diaper change in the car.
As soon as he has Rudy in his stroller, Xavier rushes down the parking lot into the crowded restaurant. He is greeted by the same smell that has come from the kitchen since the early seventies, a mix of cafecito, Cuban bread toasting in the oven and a potpourri of deep-fried delights. The walls are covered in mirrors with floral motifs and the wait staff is dressed in formal black and white uniforms that harken back to more civilized times.
The busy hostess greets him in Spanish, something that is always intimidating to Xavier. Raised by first generation Cuban Americans in the suburbs of Miami, he spoke English at home unless his grandparents were visiting. After years without speaking the language often enough to stay fluent, he keeps his sentences short and his smile big when he does.
Emmie follows right behind him as they are guided through the maze of tables, transported in time by the familial elegance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.
Xavier finds his parents, his older sister and her family and his grandmother finishing their breakfast at a table in the back room near the kitchen. He hopes his family isn’t annoyed by his usual tardiness.
“Nice of you to join us, Xavi,” his sister Caroline says while their parents dote over the kids. Heavyset and a decade his senior, she is seated at the end of the table next to her wife and their teenage sons. The table in front of them is littered with white napkins, torn up straw wrappers and crumbs from the Cuban toast and flaky pastries.
As soon as the waitress returns, Xavier orders an assortment of favorites to share with his kids. A former pre-k teacher, his mother spends most of breakfast chatting with Emmie about what she’s learning while Xavier discusses the property value of his home with his father and sister.
“I’m gonna talk to Iso about building a pool in the next couple years,” Xavier says. As soon as the word pool leaves his mouth Emmie’s ears perk up and he immediately wishes he hadn’t put that idea in her head. “But we’ll see,” he says, hoping that she doesn’t tell Iso about his idea for the backyard before he does.
Xavier turns to his grandmother to spend some time catching up with her before he gets caught up in the Thanksgiving frenzy. An octogenarian that hasn’t forgotten her sense of style, his abuela is wearing a navy blazer with gold buttons and a white blouse with a large gold coin suspended over it from a gold chain. She gives him a big kiss on the cheek and her gardenia scented perfume transports him to his childhood for a moment.
“Mi nieto lindo,” she says as she rubs her red lipstick off his cheek, just as she has for as long as he can remember. He stumbles over his Spanish with her for a few minutes, reminiscing about his late grandfather and their family trips to the Florida Keys while sipping his café con leche.
Even though he barely has a grasp over the language and only eats Cuban food once a month, Xavier feels at home sitting in the buzzing restaurant with four generations of his family. He finds comfort in knowing that their doors are always open to offer him comfort in the form of fried food.
After a few minutes of eating and an hour of sobremesa, a Spanish term for the time spent relaxing at the table after a meal, the waitress comes by with the bill.
“Aquí tienen la cuenta,” she says, placing a black check holder on the table.
“I got it since I was late,” Xavier says.
“No, no. Let me have that,” his father says, handing Rudy over to him. “You take this guy, I think he’s got a surprise for you in his diaper.”
As Xavier wipes the drool from Rudy’s chin, he wonders if this place will be around long enough for his son to pick up of the check for breakfast. With the amount of cultural landmarks Miami has lost to development, it’s hard to tell which will stand the test of time and which will be demolished to make room for new construction.