No passport needed to have a safe and delicious meal at Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant - New Albany, Indiana
Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant – New Albany, Indiana

Restaurant: Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant – New Albany, Indiana

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant is definitely one of the little gems tucked away here in New Albany, Indiana.  I can say that for sure now that I have spent some time there and had one of the most amazing dining experiences to date.  And this all happened…by dumb luck and pure chance.

Allow me to explain…

You see, March 13th is my roommate’s birthday.  As part of her birthday gift, I told her to pick a restaurant she always wanted to try out…not to worry about if I could eat anything there or not…because I could bring a protein bar and then eat something at home.  So many times we don’t get to restaurants where she wants to eat because of my dietary restrictions.  I’m done with that.  I will forever have a back-up plan.  It’s not fair…but apparently, it doesn’t really bother her because even with those set rules laid out…she contacted a few places to find out if there were items on the menu that I could eat as well.  Part of me thinks she doesn’t want to be seen with someone munching on a protein bar while she eats dinner.  No need for embarrassment…that’s just how it works at times.  If anything, I would be the one making the “scene” if you will, and I’m not ashamed.  No one else should be either.

Her original choice was a gastropub here in New Albany called The New Albany Exchange.  She had looked at the menu online and spotted a couple of salads that might work for me.  She was eying their fish and chips, of course.  I got on their Facebook page and sent a message to them about what a gluten-free vegetarian might eat.  This was two days before I was actually set to dine there.  And not a word was ever heard back.  The day before we were to dine there, my roommate sent an e-mail inquiring about food options for me…and never heard back.  Then, just before we left the office for the day on Friday, the dinner day, she called and no one answered.  Needless to say…she was the one who nixed eating there.  I told her we could still go…as part of the roommate birthday agreement she was to choose somewhere she wanted to eat.  She simply shrugged and said she would look at other options.

Her next choice was the Bank Street Brewhouse.  But upon browsing the menu, she said nothing really excited her.

And then, after a quick Trip Adviser search…she came across Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant.  It was getting amazing ratings on trip adviser and after a glance at the menu, she figured there would be options for me.  Plus, she took it as a good sign that the restaurant has a nicely laid out and beautiful Web site, as well as a menu that, upon first glance, had her mouth watering.

Decision made.  Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant for dinner it was…

After I went for my training run that day, I changed back into proper dining attire, jeans and my concert t-shirt from the Bon Jovi show the night before (LOL!), and we took a short stroll from the gym to Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant, located on the corner of Market Street and Bank Street in New Albany.  When I first moved here, this was Jimmy’s Music Store…which has moved to a different location up the way.  A few restaurants have been in and out…but when Habana Blues opened in 2010…it had some staying power.

And yes…this restaurant has been here since 2010 and I didn’t visit there to eat until now.  I am so ashamed.

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant is a New Albany’s only restaurant to offer Cuban food.  Yes…Cuban food.  I love seeing something different on these streets in this area.  This upscale Cuban cuisine is authentically prepared and presented in tapas style, that is small plates, or a variety of appetizer dishes.  You can either get for yourself or share among the table.  Tapas can be prepared warm or cold, and the menu at Habana Blues offers both types.  The entire point of tapas is to encourage more talk and socializing at the table so that the diner isn’t as focused on the food…but more the company.  What a great concept.

We entered the brightly colored restaurant and were seated immediately by the hostess.  She placed menus and a drink menu down for each of us to peruse while we waited on our server.  I was expecting a dark-haired, olive complexioned waitress…but we got the blond-haired, blue-eyed Wes…who was simply AMAZING!  He had this cute little country twang in his voice and his eyes lit up when he spoke about the food and options.  We went ahead and told him that I was a gluten-free vegetarian.  He pointed out some vegetarian courses that are highly regarded there and said he would go ahead and check on the gluten-free part of each one.

He was gone for a good while, and I could hear him consulting with others over the entire menu.  And when he returned, he had options for me written down and began to present them…along with any changes that could be made to the dish to make it safe for me to eat.  Fantastic.  He left for a few more minutes to give me some time to think about it…and after a little bit of discussion, my roommate and I came to a decision on the food we wanted to eat that night.

Habana Blues' Guacamole con Chicharritas
Habana Blues’ Guacamole con Chicharritas

First up…we had heard such fantastic things about their Guacamole con Chicharritas ($8.25), that we decided we would split that.  Yes…it is exactly what it sounds like.  Guacamole.  But instead of the Mexican version where you eat the blend of avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños, lime juice and red onion with tortilla chips, Habana Blues serves their guacamole with house prepared plaintain chips.  And yes…they are gluten-free.

There is just something so amazing about a fresh guacamole.  When the avocado is ripe and sweet and blends so well with the mild tomatoes, the bite of onion, the spice of the peppers and cilantro…and the acidity from the lime juice…when executed just right…magic happens.  This was a happy plate for me.  The plantain chips were vibrant and crunchy and looked amazing standing out next to the bright, fresh, green color of the guacamole.  It reminded me a lot of the guacamole that I make at home.  In fact, all the ingredients are the same, save I use serrano peppers in mine, as a preference of my roommate.  But this…this was lively and fresh and not too spicy.  Perfect for a started.  The plantain chips added a nice hint of sweetness to each bite.  They were sliced thin and fried to perfection.  I love a good crunch with my chip and this definitely provided it.  Honestly…this selection didn’t last long at all.

Cathy had her two plates she wanted to try ready to order.  Her final decision was that this time while we dined here, she would try the Chimichurri Steak ($8.50), which is a grilled skirt steak that is served with a chimichurri sauce (she has been intrigued by what chimichurri was since we started watching a lot of cooking shows and a lot of chefs make it) and a side of sweet potato fries, which come with a smoked honey butter to dip them into.  She ordered her steak medium, and it came out perfectly cooked.  She enjoyed every bite of it, raving about the spiciness of the chimichurri and the delicious flavor of the smoked honey butter for the sweet potato fries.

Her other plate choice was the Queso Fundido ($5.75), which is a bowl of melted Spanish Tetilla cheese, topped off with crispy chorizo and served with bread.  She loves cheese.  She loves bread.  It was no surprise when she loved this.  The nature of the cheese made it one that paired well with the bread.  By the end of the meal, it was no longer stretchy and gooey, but she could cut it up and place it over the grilled slices of bread and still enjoy every bite.  Which she did.

The birthday girl was pleased.

Habana Blues' Champinoes al Ajillo (no bread)
Habana Blues’ Champinoes al Ajillo (no bread)

But enough about the carnivore in the group…what about my options?

My first plate of choice was the highly recommended Champinoes al Ajillo ($6.50).  Normally this dish would be served with bread, but they said they would just leave that off.  No big deal.  Awesome.  The Championoes al Ajillo are cremini mushrooms that are sauteed in olive oil with garlic, red pepper flakes, and some lemon juice.  This came out in a little bowl for me…and it looked awesome.  I can see how this would be a great topper for bread…but in my mind I was already creating a pasta dish around it (using gluten-free pasta of course).  The mushrooms were sauteed to perfection.  The olive oil bath they were sitting in had just the right amount of heat from the red pepper.  And the garlic…wow…the garlic was awesome.  I gave a squirt of the provided lemon to the top of the dish and…bam.  It was delicious.  I didn’t even miss the bread.  On its own, this dish was a definite stand out!

The other vegetarian and gluten-free dish that I opted for was the first one Wes recommended, the Pincho de Vegetales ($7.50), also known as vegetable skewers.  No adjustments had to be made to this dish.  I got what any other patron of the restaurant would have received had they ordered this.  It’s a simple skewer that is packed full of grilled yellow squash, bell peppers, red onions, zucchini, and cremini mushrooms that have all been basted with mojo sauce.  On the side, these are served with this super, fantastic chili mayonnaise.  OH. MY. GOD.  This was amazing.  Each bite was a different burst of flavor.  The vegetables were done to perfection.  They were grilled just perfectly.  And that chili mayonnaise was killer.  I mean…it just livened up each bite of those vegetables.  I told my roommate not to judge me as I scooped out the last of the mayo onto my fork and ate it without any vegetables, as I had clearly already devoured those.

Habana Blues' Pincho de Vegetales
Habana Blues’ Pincho de Vegetales

We were full.  Oh…small plates for sure…but we were full.  However, we both felt that as we were out for a special occasion, that being Cathy’s birthday, we should have dessert.  We took a peek at the menu and her eyes immediately fixed on the Churros con Chocolate ($4.75), or Spanish donuts served with a chocolate ganache.  Come on.  It involved the words donuts and chocolate.  Of course she was going to be there.

In most cases, the flan is a safe choice for me, but I inquired with Wes regarding the status of gluten-free options.  He said he believed that the flan would be safe for me, however, he was going to double check with the chef.  He came back a few moments later and said that the chef indeed indicated the flan was gluten-free.  Had it not been, they offer some ice creams I would have been more than happy trying.

But with the chef’s assurance, I waffled between the two varieties of flan offered, vanilla and coconut, finally choosing to order the Flan de Vanilla ($4.99), which is a traditional Cuban vanilla custard.  I had the flan at a Mexican restaurant in Indianapolis after I ran a half marathon…and it was okay.  Not heavenly.  But okay.  So, I was a bit nervous about this one.  And when it came out, sadly, it was adorned with a cookie, which should have been left out.  I pointed that out to Wes, and he quickly removed the plate from in front of me, apologizing and saying he had told them to leave the cookie off…and took it away.  After a small wait, a new plate arrived in front of me with a fresh flan, no whipped cream (thank goodness!), no cookie, only a tiny drizzle of strawberry syrup, and adorned with a blue (yes, a blue!) cherry.  Soon after, Cathy’s churros arrived and we were diving into dessert deliciousness.

The first thing I did was eat that blue cherry.  It intrigued me.  And it…tasted blue.  It didn’t taste like a normal cherry would.  It just tasted…blue.  There is no better description for it.  Trust me.  As for the flan itself…rich, creamy, and melt-in-your-mouth good.  Oh. My. God.  I should have taken a lactase before diving into a custard…something that I noted after I was well through most of it.  But…this…was so amazing and good I didn’t even stop then to take one.  I mean…it just slid down my throat.  The vanilla flavor was amazing and perfect.  Not overkill.  It didn’t take away from the creamy texture or the richness of the dessert.  I felt every spoonful was pure heaven.  This…was the perfect way to wrap up the meal.

As for Cathy’s churros…she enjoyed them to the fullest.  And, shocked me by having chocolate ganache left over.  I would have devoured that in a heartbeat.  Silly, roomie.  Wasting chocolate.

We were both so impressed with not just the service and attention to my dietary restrictions that Habana Blues gave us…but the food was out-of-this-world.  I can’t stop raving about it.  I’m already making plans to go back and eat again.  Maybe try a few other suggestions that were recommended for a gluten-free vegetarian.  Maybe get the same meal again, sans the dessert.  Or…keep the dessert.  Or…try one of the ice creams.  Order a take-out of their Paella de Vegetales to take home and split with the roommate on a busy night when cooking just doesn’t seem feasible.  Oh…I have plans alright.  I have plans to return.  And it will be in the very near future.  Maybe next week.

If you are in the New Albany, Indiana region…or even in Louisville, Kentucky, as they have a branch open on Hurstbourne Lane, give some Cuban tapas a try.  Stop in at Habana Blues.  Feel welcome.  Talk.  Enjoy.  Dine.  Feast.  Make your palate happy.  And…don’t spend a fortune doing it.  At this restaurant, the food is spectacular and the prices are affordable.  And that…is a winning combination!

Habana Blues' Flan de Vanilla
Habana Blues’ Flan de Vanilla

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