Birmingham’s Miami Fusion Cafe is Nourishing Body and Soul

There’s a lot going on at Miami Fusion Café, and the food is only part of it. 

The restaurant does a brisk lunch business with the nearby city center office crowds; it draws diners downtown for dinner on Fridays and caters special events. El Conquistador, the Miami Fusion food truck, takes flavorful dishes, salsa music and Caribbean culture on the road throughout the greater Birmingham area and beyond. (The schedule is posted on Miami Fusion’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.)

Mofongo topped with pork is a favorite dish at Miami Fusion Cafe.

The café owners are expanding to a space next door with plans of a tiki bar in time for The World Games. There’s already an event space upstairs, and people come here for private parties and Latin dance lessons.  And the restaurant’s popular Jesus Cake is now in local grocery stores. 

But Luis and Samantha Delgado also quietly serve another community—employing people in recovery, helping them gain life skills, and supporting local organizations that combat addiction. It’s part of what Samantha says is a three-in-one approach to recovery—building self-esteem, offering structure and training (occupational skills, money management), and providing guidance and hope for the future.

I recently visited Miami Fusion Cafe for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

Most people know Miami Fusion Café for the lunch dishes—the deliciously authentic Cuban sandwich; the fried ripe plantains (maduros) that are perfectly caramelized; tostones (unripe plantains sliced thin and twice fried) that are delightfully crisp; earthy, rich black beans; the popular mofongo made with a garlicky mash of green plantains topped with your choice of chicken, pork (our favorite), steak or veggies; subtly spiced jerk chicken with a fresh mango salsa; a kids’ menu with grilled cheese and empanadas.

The husband and wife team—with Luis as the executive chef and Samantha as the operations manager—started Miami Fusion Café in 2010. They first opened their business inside a gas station in Alabaster with “six little tables, a panini press and a little camping stove we got from Costco,” Luis says. 

They serve comfort food—even if the dishes and flavors are a tad unfamiliar. 

Luis jokes that it’s “South-a-rican,” but it’s really much more than that. “What people don’t understand is that the Caribbean islands were the first stop,” he says. “It was the first migration point where all these different cultures stopped. The cultures melted in the Caribbean islands.” What he makes each day at Miami Fusion Café is just a different type of soul food, he says. “It’s Southern comfort food—just more south.” 

Luis was born in Puerto Rico, but he moved to the States when he was 8 and grew up in Little Havana in Miami enjoying foods from throughout the Caribbean. “I grew up with a grandmother who cooked Caribbean flavors, Puerto Rican flavors. … I learned the basics from her.” Those basics include dishes from Puerto Rica, of course, as well as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Cuba and more, and all these places are represented, at some time or another, at Miami Fusion. 

Whether you visit for lunch or Friday dinner, don’t forget your Jesus Cake. There are signs throughout the restaurant telling you this. So seriously, don’t forget it. It’s important.

The Jesus Cake helps fund a mission to help battle addiction in our area.

The Jesus Cake, a tres leches (three-milk) cake, is a traditional sweet made with sponge cake soaked in a syrup of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream and then topped with whipped cream. 

At Miami Fusion Café, it’s a ministry-driven dessert. 

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each cake provides funding for local recovery programs. Luis and Samantha, both recovering addicts, have long wanted to start a multi-cultural rehabilitation program to “provide an opportunity for recovery to anyone, no matter the language or cultural background.” Samantha says, “We’ve been given the opportunity by someone else to improve our life. So we want to give back to anyone who needs a second chance, if they want a second chance.” 

Right now, they partner with City of Lights Dream Center in Walker County for production and distribution of the Jesus Cakes. People in the rehab program at City of Lights, along with those employed at the Birmingham café, learn job skills as well as life skills.

Meanwhile, they continue to build their own community in Birmingham. It’s a community that invites people to stay downtown after work, to walk over to the café from their lofts and apartments or to make the short drive from West End or from over the mountain.  

“On a lot of days, it does look like a melting pot here,” Samantha says. “We have a wide variety of people with different backgrounds and cultures in here. Working-class, people with a lot of money, people with not a lot of money.” 

“The homeless people come in, and we feed them,” Luis adds. 

“I really believe that God has called this bi-racial couple to the center of Birmingham to bring everybody together,” Samantha says. “That’s what I believe.”

Miami Fusion Café

2015 5th Avenue North

Birmingham, Alabama 35203

(205) 730-9003

www.miamifusioncafe.com

Hours: 

Lunch served Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
Dinner served Friday 5 to 8 p.m. 
Closed on Sunday 

Fox 6 Books: February

These are the books I took to WBRC Fox 6 in February. Timely page turners include a picture book to celebrate Black History Month (and our state), a novel about words, another about food and a survival guide that will make a great guy gift.

The Slave Who Went to Congressby Marti Rosner and Frye Gaillard with illustrations by Jordana Haggard, is a timely way to celebrate Black History Month and the bicentennial of our state. This picture book celebrates the remarkable story of Benjamin Turner, who spent the first 40 years of his life as a slave in Selma before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1870. Turner, who taught himself to read, was the first black Congressman from Alabama and among the very first in the House of Representatives after Emancipation. An amazing man of strength, determination and compassion, he rejected the idea of punishing his white neighbors who had fought for the Confederacy, and he supported racially mixed schools and the right to vote for former slaves. Turner also argued that land should be set aside for former slaves so they could create new lives for themselves. Written in the first person and beautifully illustrated, this book for young readers makes Benjamin Turner’s story come alive.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is about Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical and inseparable twins who love words. As toddlers, they had their own twin speak; as adults, they make their livings with words. But their shared love (and obsession) of words is driving them apart. Daphne, a grammar columnist, is devoted to preserving the elegance—and rules—of Standard English. Laurel, a poet, approaches language in a decidedly less-structured way. Their differences take a really bad turn when they begin to fight over custody of their prized, shared family heirloom—Merriam Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition. This super-smart novel is a fun and enjoyable celebration of language as well as an exploration of self. It has a great bookgroup guide, too.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones is a story of friendship, self-discovery, love and food. Lots of really good food. Widowed American food writer Maggie McElroy learns of a paternity claim against her late husband’s estate and heads to Beijing to sort it all out. It’s a working trip—her magazine editor asks for a profile on rising culinary star Sam Liang. Turns out, Sam is the grandson of a chef who cooked for the Emperor and in 1925 wrote The Last Chinese Chef, which became a food classic. In China, Maggie finds out more about her husband than she expected, of course. But, with Sam as her guide, she also discovers more than she expected about a cuisine rooted in centuries of history. It’s this discovery that’s most transforming for Maggie who finds herself easily drawn into Sam’s delicious world—especially its family of cooks and customers.

While looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for my guy, I was reminded of How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier. It’s already in our home library, so my gift search continues. Your search might stop here. This is a  fun and informative 320-page book is full of practical advice for “roughing it” in the woods, where, as the author says, “every necessity is free.” Of course, it’s important to know what you need and don’t need. In these pages, you’ll learn how to build a shelter, how to make a soup hole (in the ground), how to fish with your bare hands, how to make a fire with just a spark, how and when to steal food from a bear, how to signal for help and what kind of plants you can (and can’t) eat. Or how to play it safer:  Avoid mushrooms altogether; the risks outweigh the gain. A few quick takeaways:  Ice is never safe. Wolves are not to be feared. Spruce-needle tea has as much vitamin C as fresh orange juice. All birds are edible.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.