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Cafe Habana

Al Parker - May 26th, 2008
Restaurateurs Greg Lobdell and Jon Carlson have added another eatery to the growing eclectic Traverse City dining arena.
Café Habana, which opened on May 14, celebrates the tasteful food, fashions and fun of pre-Castro Cuba.
“Café Habana blends the classic Cuban feel with menu items from Central and South America in an updated version on the timeless Cuban or Latin Café,” said Lobdell. “The 1930s retro-style of Habana brings up imagery of the pre-Castro Cuba with art deco décor set in a rustic environment.”
Visitors are greeted by an elegant cherry wood and burgundy interior that is accented by more than a dozen colorful Cuban posters. Lighting is provided by assorted chandeliers, most made of wrought iron and highlighted by crystals. The overall vibe is casual, but with a hint of upscale. It can seat up to 150 diners.
Since the early 1960s, the political environment between Cuba and the U.S. has given the tiny island nation a strange type of forbidden mystique. But the Cuban history and culture is extremely rich and Café Habana captures a slice of that culture in its meals, its music, and its drinks.

Traverse City’s slice of Havana is the third Café Habana owned by Lobdell and Carlson, who operate similar eateries downstate, in Royal Oak and Ann Arbor. It’s located right next door to one of the pair’s most successful eateries – the Blue Tractor Cook Shop.
They also own North Peak Brewing Company, Kilkenny’s Irish Public House, The Bowers Harbor Inn, and The Bowery, as well as other restaurants throughout Michigan.
“We’re excited about bringing the Cuban and Latin cuisine to Traverse City,” said Lobdell. “We’ve been refining these entrees for four years and we’re really excited about offering them in Olde Towne.”
Café Habana’s brunch menu, served on Saturdays and Sundays, features savory dishes like Huevos con Bistec, fried eggs with grilled hangar steak, chimichurri and yellow rice. Or try torrejas, custard-griddled Cuban bread topped with fruit salsa and powdered sugar.
For lunch, diners can try a zesty ropa vieja, shredded beef in spicy tomato sauce with yellow rice and tostones. Burger lovers will want a taste of hamburguesa Cubana, a grilled sirloin burger topped with tangy pepper jack cheese, crispy shoestring potatoes, raw onion, shredded lettuce and a dollop of thousand island dressing.
Interesting dinner entrees include the tacos al pastor, traditional street tacos on corn tortillas topped with pork, roasted pineapple, onions, cilantro and salsa verde, and served with beans and rice. They’re also available with shredded beef or mojo chicken.
Another tasty option is the arroz con pollo, a boneless chicken breast simmered with peas and onions in a rich tomato beer sauce and served over yellow rice.
Seafood lovers will want an order of fish tacos, teeming with grilled ahi, tomatoes, avocado and jicama slaw, with lime crema, salsa verde and yellow rice.

“Our culinary team has had a passion for Cuban cooking and they’ve perfected these recipes over the years,” said Lobdell, who researched Cuban eateries in New York City and Miami before launching the Royal Oak restaurant four years ago.
To slake the largest thirsts, Café Habana offers a wide array of Latin drinks, such as fresh-squeezed limeade, Cuban coffee, mojitos, beers, wines and a variety of Cuban cocktails. The blend of exciting Latin drinks paired with the authentic flavors and spices of the food will make this eatery not only a dining destination, but a popular nightspot as well.
Café Habana features two outdoor seating areas – a cozy dining area in front and a rooftop deck that seats about 60 for drinks only. On the rooftop, classical Latin guitarists entertain patrons enjoying their favorite beverage.
“The rooftop deck is something that will be truly unique,” said Lobdell. “Enjoying great Latin cocktails in the fresh air with the sky above is a great way to spend any afternoon or evening.”
Experienced manager Mary Pat Compagnari oversees operation of both Café Habana and Blue Tractor Cook Shop.
Carlson and Lobdell’s success with the Blue Tractor Cook Shop has prompted the Dynamic Duo of Diverse Dining to open another Blue Tractor in Ann Arbor. It will debut next door to A2’s Café Habana.
“We are grateful to have so many loyal customers at the Blue Tractor and feel very fortunate to have won Best New Restaurant (from Northern Express) in our first year open,” said Lobdell. “The great success we’ve had at Blue Tractor has allowed us to bring Café Habana to Olde Towne. We are very excited about the future of Olde Towne. We have great neighbors here. We really feel lucky to be a part of such a special neighborhood.”

Café Habana, at 423 South Union in Traverse City, is open Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday from 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday from 9 a.m. to midnight; and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. For information, call (231) 929-4150 or go to
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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