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Feed Your Head

Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba shook Cuban society to its foundations — and those at the top were the most likely to be toppled. Although Naranjo did not come from a wealthy family, he chafed at the sudden government interference in his life. He quit his job as a lawyer and carefully considered his options.

On June 13, 1962, he immigrated to the United States.

“I was one of the lucky,” Naranjo says.

Naranjo worked the jobs he could find, including as a janitor, laborer and wholesale seller of clothes. It was not until he acquired his own business in New Jersey that he found his true calling. While selling burgers and hot dogs, he thought he could save money by making his own ice cream.

“The good thing with education (is) … you can do whatever you want,” Naranjo said. “The first time I made my ice cream, I went to the library, looked into the ice cream. I make my own toppings, my own syrup, my own chocolate, my own ice cream, my own ice.”

New Jersey, however, presented one major problem: ice cream was only sold in the summer. After 15 years in New Jersey, Naranjo bought a business in the warmer climate of Tampa and called it Snack City.

The building is very simple, and his food has become a mainstay in the neighborhood. In addition to hamburgers, pork chops and hot dogs, he serves soups and a variety of Cuban entrees such as picadillo, Cuban sandwiches and roast pork. The large dinners are well-prepared, cheap and include beans (black or red), rice (white or yellow), plantains, salad and Cuban bread. Just about everything is less than $6. The pork chop dinner, two thin chops piled on top of the abundant sides, is only $4.61. Tasty fried shrimp and steak entrees run just a dollar more. Hamburgers cost $1 after tax, and the Cubana Frita — a burger topped with diced raw onion and crispy potato sticks — costs $1.35. The meat pies stand out as an especially savory appetizer for $1.50.

At Snack City, one can find numerous tropical ice cream flavors that have no equivalent in the States. For some reason, fruit importers never saw fit to market these fruits here. Fruits such as maméy may be beloved by Cubans, but few Americans have seen or tasted the fruit, which looks like an avocado with a red pulpy interior.

Naranjo diversified his flavors in an attempt to appeal to Tampa’s various ethnic groups.

“I make ice cream for everybody,” he said. “The Mexican people, they like strawberry and they like maméy, too. (Indians like) mango, saffron with pistachios, cashew and raisins, and they like the tropical fruit too. Puerto Ricans like coconut. Cubans like coconut and maméy. Colombians like guanabana, or soursop.”

Cuban ice cream is neither as sweet nor as creamy as its counterpart here in the United States. Unlike the decadence of the American Heath Bar, Crunch and Cookies ‘n’ Cream flavors, Snack City offers ice cream made with dignity and restraint that seems to touch off subtle possibilities instead of cloying extremes.

A special standout is the maméy, derived from Cuba’s national fruit. The ice cream resembles a pink sorbet, with a subtle and intriguing flavor, somewhat like guava and not too sweet. The guava is darker and stronger, like a rich strawberry flavor. The mango and dulcé de leche are not to be missed, either. Especially exotic flavors are the cashew and raisin, with the crunchy nuts and chewy raisins mingling in vanilla ice cream. The coconut is an especially light, subtle delight. Fans of heavier, creamier flavors need not worry — Snack City has some of the decadent flavors popular here in the States.

Naranjo is happy to please so many with his ice cream, but most of all, he likes the freedom of owning his own business. When he became a procurador, or small-claims lawyer, in Cuba, he relished the fact that he occupied his own office.

“I’m independent. … I don’t want to work for nobody,” he said.

Snack City is located at 2506 W. Columbus Dr. and can be contacted at (813) 872-7502.

Check out Feed Your Head again on March 26.