Celebrate Miami-Cuban comfort food at Croquetapalooza

He is known as the Burger Beast, but South Florida food blogger Sef Gonzalez’s heart belongs to croquetas and fritas.

Gonzalez loves the comfort foods of his Cuban heritage and Miami upbringing so much he created events to celebrate them. In 2013, he staged the first Frita Showdown, a competition featuring the Cuban burger variant made from spiced beef, sometimes blended with pork or chorizo, and topped with fried julienne potatoes on a Cuban roll.

A year later, he launched Croquetapalooza, a festival paying tribute to croquetas, bread-crumb-coated fried tubes traditionally stuffed with a mix of minced ham, bechamel, onions, garlic and parsley.

Gonzalez combined the two events last year, and the party was a hit. A sellout crowd of 1,000 descended upon the Magic City Casino in Miami and devoured croquetas and fritas from dozens of eateries. The double-header known as Croquetapalooza 2017 returns Friday, Aug. 25, from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets cost $50 and are available online. The 21-and-over event features unlimited food, desserts and drinks, including beer from Concrete Beach brewery, wine and Tito’s vodka.

“It’s dedicated to the memory of my grandparents, who came to the U.S. looking for a better life,” Gonzalez says. “It’s a celebration of being Hispanic in Miami and a celebration for anyone who enjoys croquetas, good food and good times.”

Fifteen eateries will vie for best croqueta honors, and 10 restaurants will take part in the Frita Showdown, including newcomers Ariete, an upscale Miami restaurant from acclaimed chef Michael Beltran, and the well-regarded MEAT Eatery and Taproom, of Boca Raton. Croqueta participants include Miami eateries Finka Table and Tap, PInecrest Bakery and Sakaya Kitchen and out-of-town invaders A Lo Cubano Kitchen from Orlando and Croquette from Dallas. There will also be a croqueta-eating contest.

Gonzalez says many eateries stick with traditional preparations, but some get creative with guava dipping sauces and unorthodox fillings. He says Finka will prepare an arroz con pollo croquetta, and he expects a fresh spin from Sakaya, an Asian fusion restaurant.

Gonzalez says his parents and maternal grandparents shared an apartment when he grew up, and his earliest and fondest memories revolve around Cuban coffee, pastelitos and croquetas. He’d take trips to local bakeries with his grandfather, and remembers his first frita at Morro Castle in Hialeah, which recently shuttered.

“It was on an American hamburger bun, because there wasn’t any Cuban bread around when they started in the early 1960s, and they never changed it,” Gonzalez says. “The thing that stuck out were the fried potatoes — always fresh. To me, that’s the key to a frita. You can’t use potato sticks from a can.”

Just about every other high-profile Miami frita purveyor will be on-hand, including El Rey de las Fritas and El Mago de las Fritas.

Croquetapalooza 2017 will take place 7-10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, at Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37 Ave., in Miami. Tickets cost $50 are available online and are expected to sell out before the event. Attendees must be 21 or over.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

Copyright © 2018, South Florida