The cro­queta has its day at Cro­que­ta­palooza

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Mayo DIN­ING CRITIC

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 dou­ble­header known as Cro­que­ta­palooza 2017 re­turns to­day from 7 to 10 p. m. 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 Cro­que­tas, a Cuban com­fort food of fried bread­crum­b­coated tubes tra­di­tion­ally stuffed with ham, bechamel sauce, gar­lic, onion and pars­ley, will be fea­tured at Cro­que­ta­palooza to­day at Magic City Casino in Mi­ami. When: 7-10 p.m. to­day Where: Magic City Casino, 450 NW 37 Ave., in Mi­ami. Price: Tick­ets cost $50 at cro­que­ta­palooza.com/ tick­ets and were ex­pected to sell out be­fore the event. At­ten­dees must be 21 or over. 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-oftown 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. mmayo@south­florida.com, 954-356-4508. Fol­low my food ad­ven­tures on In­sta­gram: @mike­may­oeats. Sign up for my weekly din­ing news­let­ter at South­Florida.com/ EatBeatMail.

SEF GON­ZA­LEZ/COUR­TESY

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