Croquetapalooza 2017

Croquetapalooza, organized by Burger Beast, is a competition event where restaurants vied to see who makes the best croqueta.  This event also featured the Frita Showdown, also intended to decide which is the best Frita in Miami.  For those of you that don’t get out much, a croqueta (croquette in English) is a small roll that is breaded in breadcrumbs and fried, and a Frita is a sandwich made with a patty of seasoned ground beef and pork (or chorizo) on a Cuban roll and topped with shoestring potatoes .  The roll is usually made with potato or ground meats of some sort as the main ingredients.  In Miami, croquetas  are a staple of pretty much every Latin cafeteria that you can find.  The most common kind is usually ham.

Despite being born and raised in South Florida, croquetas were something that I never got into.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I hated them until I ate a potato and cheese croquette at a fancy restaurant and found that not all croquetas are greasy mounds of icky ham.  So, when I was gifted a ticket to Croquetapalooza, I decided to enter with an open mind.

I decided to tackle the croquetas first, because it meant smaller portions and the lines moved faster.  The event was super crowded, and by the time I left it was really hard to move around.

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Croquetas 1-4

  • #1: Trust & Co (People’s Choice Winner)
    • Bacon and Manchego cheese croqueta
    • If someone had told me that croquetas could be made with bacon and cheese, then maybe I wouldn’t have vilified them so much all of these years.  They got my vote for single-handedly changing my presence at the event from “Well, I didn’t want the ticket to go to waste” to “Wow, maybe croquetas aren’t as bad as I thought.  Can’t wait to try the next one.”  Salty bacon and creamy cheese are always a winning combination.
  • #2: Palomilla Grill (Judge’s Choice Winner)
    • Ropa Vieja and Ham croquetas
    • I didn’t try the ham croqueta because we were given a choice between one or the other.  The ropa vieja croqueta’s flavors were very reminiscent of this classic cuban dish, while still remaining faithful to the texture of a classic croqueta.
  • #3: Party Cake Bakery
    • Mahi Mahi croqueta with a potato ball
    • This croqueta kind of reminded me of fish sticks, but not in a bad way,  I wasn’t a fan of the potato ball that came with it.  It was filled with a strange meat filling.
  • #4: Pinecrest Bakery
    • Cod, chicken, and ham croquetas
    • The chicken croqueta wasn’t bad, but the other two were below average.

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Croquetas 5-8

  • #5: Ms. Cheezius
    • Another bacon and cheese croqueta with a balsamic strawberry reduction sauce
    • This was my second favorite of the night, I think.  I guess bacon DOES make everything better.
  • #6: Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox
    • Manchego cheese and poblano croqueta
    • This croqueta was kind of spicy, and it didn’t retain its shape very well once you bit into it.  Still, that was because there was cheese oozing out from where you took a bite, and that’s rarely a bad thing.
  • #7: Vicky Bakery
    • Ham croqueta
    • This is basically every croqueta from a Latin cafeteria, ever.
  • #8: Estefan Kitchen:
    • short rib croqueta
    • These caught my eye because the plating was so nice and pretty.  You could really taste the short rib in the croqueta, which was nice.

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Croquetas 9-12

  • #9: Breadman Miami
    • Doritos a la Milanesa croqueta: ham, chicken, and Swiss cheese breaded with Doritos
    • Points for creativity, but the flavor combinations didn’t come together for me.
  • #10: Doce Provisions
    • Smoked ham and chorizo croqueta
    • The chorizo in this croqueta made it stand out from a standard “ham only” entry, but it was still mostly average.
  • #11: Finka Table and Tap
    • Kimchee croqueta and pork croqueta
    • I regret eating the kimchee croqueta first.  It was so bad that I had to run to a trash can and spit it out after my first bite.  After that one, it kind of tainted the taste of the pork one for me, so I don’t think that I can give it a fair assessment.
  • #12: La Fresa Francesa
    • Veal croqueta
    • While the croqueta itself wasn’t much to look at, I appreciated that it was basically a cylindrical veal meatball.  That being said, I think that’s also what made it not technically a croqueta for me.  It was more of a breaded meatball.

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Croquetas 13 and 14

  • #13: Atlas Delicatessen
    • Spicy sweet potato casserole croqueta: a vegan croqueta made with spiced sweet potato with a spicy buffalo dipping sauce
    • I appreciate when a restaurant can make something vegan that doesn’t taste awful.  However, I also don’t think that buffalo sauce was the right choice to go with this croqueta.  The sweetness and the spices in the croqueta were too much of a contrast for it to work.
  • #14: Dolores (But you can call me Lolita)
    • Serrano ham and bechamel sauce croqueta
    • Again, average.

And, as if trying all of these little cylinders wasn’t enough, next was to try all of the fritas!  Fortunately, there were fewer of these, because my stomach was already complaining about all of the fried food.

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Fritas 1-4

  • #1: El Mago de las Fritas
    • Vaca frita Frita: A frita that was topped with vaca frita and avocado
    • I love vaca frita, so this was actually a good variation for me.  While the meat was a little on the dry side, the sauce and the creamy avocado helped it along.  This was my second favorite of the night.
  • #2: Tucker Duke’s Lunchbox
    • Classic frita
    • It wasn’t bad, but nothing really stood out to me
  • #3: I Don’t Give a Flying Frita
    • A frita with white cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, and “frita sauce”
    • While this frita wasn’t bad, I couldn’t really taste any of the additional components that it had, even though I could see them.  It’s like they got lost in the powerful flavor profile of a frita.
  • #4: Cuban Guys
    • Classic frita
    • I had a pan con bistec from this place once, and it was really bad.  I was surprised when this was one of the better fritas of the night.  The patty was juicy and not dry.  Well done.

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Fritas 5 and 6

  • #5: Los Bobos
    • Classic frita
    • With my first bite, I couldn’t find anything special about it.  With my second bite, I noticed that the meat was seasoned well to go with the potato sticks.  With my third bite, I realized that I didn’t want to stop eating it.  So, even though this was just a standard frita, it got my vote because it was the only one that left me wanting more after one or two bites.
  • #6: El Rey de las Fritas (Frita Showdown Winner)
    • Classic frita and a frita with fried plaintain and cheese
    • Perhaps the judges were fortunate enough to get one of their fritas with the plantain and cheese on it, which they had ran out of when I got to the front of the line.  Instead, I got their classic frita, which was good but didn’t instill that “must take another bite!” feeling that Los Bobos did.

Despite all of the grease sitting in my stomach by this time, I still made some room to check out a few of the other offerings at the event.

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Nutella tres leches from Breadman Miami.

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Pinecrest bakery was offering tons of desserts to sample in addition to their croqueta entry.  And, their desserts were definitely more impressive.  My favorite was the triple-layer chocolate mousse, which was rich and chocolatey without being overwhelming.

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And, no Latin event is complete without some plantain chips!  There were plenty to go around, courtesy of Chifles.

Croquetapalooza was an eye-opening event.  I never imagined that croquetas could be anything else but those yucky ham things that people in Miami eat around breakfast time.  This event showed me the potential and versatility of croquetas, and maybe even inspired me to try making some of my own.  In the end, these types of revelations are the reason why I show up to these things.  There is always something new to learn, and something new to try.

Thank you, Burger Beast, for another great event.

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