Business & Economy

The Versailles: 50 years of food and history of Cuban exiles in Miami

By Emilio J. López

Miami, US, Nov 10 (EFE).- Miami’s famous Versailles restaurant, part of the lives and history of Cuban exiles, celebrated its 50th anniversary on Wednesday with a roaring party for which it brought back the original menu from when it opened its doors in 1971.

“We are very happy to be 50 years old. Our first feeling is of gratitude to the community, for supporting us in this way, and to the employees, always ready for anything, whether a president comes” or the day-to-day clientele, says Nicole Valls, one of the restaurant’s founding family members.

Cuban founder Felipe Valls arrived in Miami in 1960 at the age of 25, after the revolutionary government confiscated the various businesses of his family.

Now, his son Felipe Valls Jr. and granddaughter Nicole take care of the traditional family recipes, such as the palomilla (marinated beef steak), the ropa vieja (braised shredded beef), the chicken rice, the Galician broth and the pork masitas.

The Valls family wanted to celebrate these five decades of Cuban culture and cuisine with clients, family and friends who during this time have been linked to Versailles, a mandatory stop on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

While the special tent erected outside the restaurant fills up with guests, at the entrance to the premises diners wait for their name to be called.

One of those waiting patiently at the door is Cuban Eida Artigas, a regular of Versailles since it opened, and a fan of the boliche (beef stuffed with chorizo).

“It’s a little piece of Cuba and whenever I come I remember my mother,” says Artigas just before going inside.

Just for this one special day, the Valls brought back the original menu and prices from 1971, including classic dishes such as picadillo (ground meat with sauce, $1.95), chicken rice ($2.25), palomilla ($3.25) and the special dish of the day: roast suckling pig with Cuban mojo ($2.92).

The Versailles is “more than a restaurant, it is a place where freedom is celebrated, thanks to a family that has created a place where presidents and electoral candidates come to have their coffee,” Miami mayor Francis Suárez told Efe.

Republican congressman and former Miami mayor Carlos Giménez, who did not miss the party either, says “when something happens in Cuba, we come here. It is a part of our culture and history.”

While the party continues under the outdoor tent with live music, mojitos and photo shoots, inside the restaurant not a table is free.

“For us it is our second home. We come every Tuesday and Thursday, we celebrate all anniversaries [here],” says Cuban Waldo Puig.

The history and daily life of the Cuban community in Miami would be inconceivable without this restaurant of popular cuisine in abundant servings, and as Nicole Valls explains, what cements its success is “always treating the customer well, giving the best product with the best price” and “with [good] work ethic.”

It’s a formula that guarantees a long future for Versaille – the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant outside Cuba. EFE


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