Ceniza Cuban restaurant, located in Cambridge Square in Ooltewah, TN, opened in the spring of 2016 and serves Caribbean and Southern fusion food and cocktails.
I’ve been wanting to try Ceniza Cuban restaurant (or Ceniza Caribbean & Southern Fusion) for quite some time. They opened in late spring serving Cuban and Southern fusion food, but we waited a while to try it out to give them time to work out the kinks that a new restaurant inevitably goes through. It was kind of a tough wait because I love Cuban food and obviously I love Southern food. I held out, though. I heard a lot of mixed reviews about the service and the quality of the food, so I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when we headed out.
We decided to hit up Ceniza Cuban restaurant late on a Saturday afternoon, around 4:00 p.m. We weren’t really sure where to go in; there is no signage over the entry door, which is on the back side of the building. There are two sets of double doors and on one door of the first set it says “Use other door”. That means use the other door in that pair. It will take you in to the hostess stand. The other set of double doors will lead you to the stairs that go up to their cigar lounge. At any rate, there were not a lot of people there when we arrived, so we were seated immediately. We chose to sit on the patio, but as we walked through the dining room I took note of the bright, beachy colors of the dining area and the bar.
Our server, Christina, checked in with us quickly and brought us water while we looked over the drink menu. Philip decided on a Chattanooga Brewing Company Chestnut Street Brown Ale ($6/pint), which he says is one of the best brown ales he’s ever had. I decided to have a Cuba Libre 1900s ($8): rum, Angostura bitters, Mexican Coke, and lime. I love rum and Coke, and the bitters and lime definitely finished it off perfectly. I loved the pottery cup that it was served in! We contemplated getting some tostones (fried plantains) nachos ($12) or black bean hummus ($7) but ultimately decided against it.
The menu is divided into small plates, salads, cigar box sandwiches, entrees, sides, and desserts. I didn’t have to think too hard about my order because I knew that I wanted to try their version of the Elena Ruz sandwich so that I could compare it to the one that I had at Embargo 62 and the one that I make myself. The Elena Ruz is grouped under “cigar box sandwiches”, which are literally served in a paper-lined cigar box. Served pressed on a semi-sweet roll with roasted thick-sliced turkey, cream cheese, and strawberry jam, the Elena Ruz is sweet and savory all at one. This one was just a little bit crunchy and was not messy as one might expect a sandwich with that much going on. The ingredients were well balanced and there was a good flavor to the turkey (I can have a problem with the flavor of poultry that has been cooked ahead of time). The sandwich itself was $8, which did not include a side. I added plantain chips (mariquitas) for an additional $2. It always bothers me when sandwiches do not come with a side; I would prefer that the price be $10 than to see $8 on a menu then have to pay an additional $2 for a side. Maybe that’s weird, but it’s one of my hang-ups. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed both the sandwich and the thinly sliced, slightly salty plantain chips.
Philip decided to order the CFC (Ceniza fried chicken) and Mac ($13). The chicken was a large, thinly pounded chicken breast coated in a regular better coating then dipped in coconut and fried until crispy. It was seasoned well and cooked just right – done through but not dry at all. The macaroni and cheese was creamy and cheese (of course) had little bits of roasted red pepper in it, giving it a bit of a pimento cheese flavor. It was also served with the vegetable of the day, which in that day was zucchini and yellow squash.
Despite some of the negatives that I had heard and read about Ceniza Cuban restaurant, we enjoyed our experience. The atmosphere was very nice and Christina was friendly and helpful. Our food was tasty and the prices were comparable to similar restaurants (our pre-tip total was about $37 for a beer, a cocktail, a sandwich, a side, and an entree). We will definitely return to Ceniza Cuban restaurant to try some of their other Cuban and Southern fare.
If you like Cuban and Southern food, you should definitely check out Ceniza Cuban restaurant and let me know what you think!
Ceniza Caribbean & Southern Fusion is located at 9454 Bradmore Lane, Ooltewah, TN 37363. They are open Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can call them at 423-760-4198. To learn more, check out Ceniza’s website. You can also find Ceniza Cuban restaurant on Facebook and follow @ceniza_lounge on Instagram and on Twitter.