There’s a lot going on at tiny Sweet Plantain Grill, where three food professionals wielding decades of combined experience in the nutrition and hospitality industries share a vision to “represent and unify the flavors and cultures of all Latin American countries.” That’s according to Mishelle Calvillo, who, together with her husband Daniel Calvillo and her mother Patty Vera — executive chef and a culinary-arts practitioner and administrator of 30 years — named the Arden-based business after the delicacy that Mishelle calls “a staple food for many Latin Caribbean and Latin American countries.”
And while that banana-adjacent tropical fruit — served ripe, sliced, and fried with the restaurant’s signature sandwiches or a la carte — is indeed a sweet celebration, it’s not the plantains that get the most mentions in Sweet Plantain’s many Google-review raves. It’s the other side item: yucca fries. The shape and heft of typical steak fries, lightly crispy outside and tender within, they’re an absolute delight that could convert any potato diehard. (The cilantro-aioli dipping sauce is next-level, too.)
Naturally, all of this is a preamble to those two musts that sustain any Cuban restaurant: the eponymous sandwich and coffee. Pork loin is the main element of the Cuban sandwich, and over the years, some local restaurants have taken major liberties here — swapping in the shredded pulled pork of the typical barbecue sandwich, for instance, or using a fancy brown mustard or other interpretive dressing. But to be authentic, the pork must be layered in long slices and combined with pickles (also sliced long), ham, Swiss cheese, and plain yellow mustard. The finished sandwich is served hot on buttered-and-pressed Cuban bread.
Besides staying “as traditional as possible,” using the freshest ingredients is the key to a great Cuban sandwich, says Mishelle. Sweet Plantain oven-roasts its sliced pork, and the juiciness is exquisite. More and more Cuban food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants have begun dotting the regional landscape in recent years — and so the three restaurateurs cherish every “Best Cuban Sandwich in Town” rave they get online. The restaurant’s gracious service is also well documented.
Sweet Plantain’s traditional Cuban coffee offerings run the gamut from sweetened Cortaditos to Coladas; the latter is made up of four shots of espresso and is intended as a communal treat to be ladled out in smaller cups. (The yucca fries, plantains, and house-made tropical juices are also available in single and party servings.) Homemade key-lime pie will soon appear on the menu.
Though Sweet Plantain started life, like so many other small eateries, as a food truck that partnered with various breweries, they broke from the common mode during early COVID days. Today it’s a permanently parked food trailer with a small covered eating area, its foundation sided in brick for an air of solidity.
“[Being in one place] has made it much easier for customers to find us,” says Mishelle, “and allowed us to focus our efforts on productive ways to grow our business.”
Sweet Plantain Grill, 2317 Hendersonville Road, Arden, open Tuesdays through Fridays 11am-4pm and Saturdays 11am-3pm. For more information, call 828-348-1604 or see sweetplantaingrill.com (and on Facebook).