Rural Missouri - January 2018 - 23
by Paul Newton | firstname.lastname@example.org
ou might not know it driving down Court Street in Fulton. Even a peek
in the front door may not let you in on the secret. But, in the back two
suites of a former furniture store you'll ﬁnd some of the tastiest, most
authentic Cuban food in Missouri.
For nearly a decade, Fulton Cafe has served a combination of bona
ﬁde Cuban cuisine along with American favorites behind a boutique in
an 1890s building in historic, downtown Fulton. Owners John and Iris
Atkinson serve lunchtime soups, sandwiches and entrees reminiscent of Iris'
youth in Cuba and the years the couple would later spend in Miami.
Many Americans have never tasted Cuban food since the United States
started severing relations with the island nation in 1958. "People have been
very curious about Cuban food, especially when we ﬁrst opened," says Iris.
"I get asked what Cuban food tastes like. I just tell people that it has a lot of
spices, but it's not spicy. It's a lot of happiness and love."
John adds they keep a balance of American favorites to their menu to satisfy
those who aren't ready to try the regional fare. "It's about 50 percent Cuban
food," he says. "Sometimes ﬁve or six people will come in and some order the
Cuban food, but others want something like a grilled cheese they're more familiar with. We'll serve the food and see their interest pique. The guy who got the
grilled cheese may reach across the table to take a bite of his wife's picadillo
and say, 'Oh, that's good.' "
The Atkinsons - who have been married for 27 years - say the authentic
recipes come from Iris' "Cuban Bible of Cooking." She says the book is a gift
every Cuban bride receives. "It's a little pink book and it's very loved in every
household," she says. "They are passed down. You never get a new one."
Sandwiches are the bread-and-butter of the cozy cafe, with most being available in full and half sizes.
The biggest seller is the classic Cubano. The deliciousness is in the details.
Pork is marinated in orange, lemon and lime juices along with other secret
ingredients before being roasted for eight hours. The sandwich uses a Cuban
bread - slightly more dense than a French loaf - the Atkinsons have ﬂown in
from Florida. The pork, Virginia ham, dill pickles and Swiss cheese are heated
between the bread and then pressed on a plancha (think panini) press for a few
"The signature cut is from corner to corner and we serve it with a side of
mustard," says John. "That sandwich is usually the ﬁrst one people who are
interested in Cuban food try."
Another intriguing sandwich is the Elena Ruz. Cream cheese is spread on
egg bread and topped with turkey and Swiss cheese. The sandwich is melted -
not pressed - and strawberry jam is smeared inside right before serving. The
combination of the hot meat and Swiss cheese with the cold jam will have you
"People think it's strange to add the strawberry jam to a sandwich," Iris says.
"It is one of my favorites."
Another house specialty is the picadillo. Ground beef is cooked with raisins,
garlic, onions, olives, tomato sauce, roasted red peppers and potatoes. "Some
people don't want to hear that it has raisins in it because they think that's too
different," Iris says. "Then they taste it and love the sweet and saltiness it has."
The mouthwatering entrees at Fulton Cafe are the perfect size for a lunch
break. All entrees are served with a half order of black beans, rice, plantains
and a side salad. Guests also can choose to substitute for three of the nine
sides on the menu. Iris says the plantains and black beans are staples at the
restaurant. They are commonly served in Cuba where the banana-like fruit
grows in the tropical climate.
"The plantains are from the banana family. You wait for them to be yellow and black and they cook to be soft and very sweet," she says. "Then you
have to have black beans. We leave them in water overnight and pressure cook
them with a cheesecloth of peppers, onions, garlic and bay leaves and our own
spices. They're delicious."
Another favorite from the entree menu is the camarones enchilados or shrimp
creole. The dish starts with a tomato-based sauce, which includes onions, garlic, peppers, parsley, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, Tabasco and other spices.
"That little bit of Tabasco is as hard of a spice as we have," Iris says. "On a
scale from one to 10, it's a 3."
The sauce is warmed up on the stove before shrimp is added and cooked
to perfection. The mixture is plated and is a perfect complement to the tasty
plantains, black beans and rice.
It's a family affair in the kitchen for the Atkinsons, who get help from Iris'
mother, with whom she shares a name. The Callaway Electric Cooperative members cook the meals at the restaurant while the elder Iris - who brought her
10-year-old daughter to the U.S. in 1980 as part of the Marial Boatlift - preps
food, washes dishes and makes some of the soup. The staff is rounded out
by customer-turned-waiter Jimmy Trotter. The half-Italian, half-Cuban foodie
explains the menu to new guests and gets them comfortable with Cuban food.
"In the kitchen it can be like a ballet," says John, a Fulton native. "I feel like
we're a well-oiled machine now. With every dish, my wife and I both check it
and then Jimmy does the same. We want to make sure it's appealing to your
eyes and we get it out as quick as we can."
John says that introducing people to a new cuisine is what he enjoys about
"We try and stick to the basics of Cuban cooking. We don't want to add anything that shouldn't be there," John says. "We just enjoy serving folks. It's a
real joy to bring this food to them and share the culture from my wife's side of
Specialties: Cuban and American sandwiches including the Cubano, Elena Ruz, Pan
con Lechon, Medianoche, BLT and club.
Cuban entrees including shrimp creole and
picadillo. Cuban speciality coffees.
Price: Soups and salads from $3.99 to $5.99.
Sandwiches from $4.99 to $9.99. Entrees from $9.99 to $11.99.
Details: Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed
Sunday. Cash, all major credit cards and Apple Pay accepted.
Directions: Located at 529 Court St. in downtown Fulton.
Contact: 573-642-8444 and www.mkt.com/fulton-cafe-llc.
More content inside
our digital edition
Above: The shrimp creole or camarones enchilados features a ﬂavorful sauce
made with onions, garlic, peppers, tomato sauce and other spices that envelopes
the shrimp. It's served with rice, plantains and black beans. Below: The summer
salad features in-season produce and is served with a vinaigrette.
JANUARY 2018 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP