One of the best Cuban sandwiches is right here on the Suncoast! At JR’s Old Packinghouse Cafe!
USA Today nominated them for Best Cuban in Florida. If you haven’t been here yet, head down toward I-75 at the Fruitville Road exit (210) to Cattlemen Road which will take you to 987 S. Packinghouse Road. There you will find a kitschy, tin-roofed, old Florida joint that has great food and music. Check out their chicken empanadas and Cuban bowls. They are having specials all month long to celebrate their two decades in Sarasota!
Opening in 1999, JR Garraus, brought his Cuban family recipes to Sarasota and, if you have great food, they will come & they did! Cubans are not all that are on the menu at JR’s! His burger is voted one of the best in Sarasota by various foodie magazines. The Ybor burger has shredded pork, swiss cheese, grilled onions and 999 island dressing – this burger was huge and awesome! The chicken rice & black beans is a wonderful comfort food dish! BBQ pork nachos are a tantalizing trip from the standard nacho fare. If you would rather have something from the ocean, JR’s original Basa Reuben had me hooked! JR’s now has a full bar along with craft beers and their Packing House Punch made with sangria and tequila which was quite a hit with the crew at my table!
For the 20th Anniversary Celebration that was held on Wednesday, September 18th, the Mike Merola All-Stars, which are Mike, Joe Bruno and Lloyd LA Davis, brought the music. Local guest star vocalists and players included Greg Fischer of the Shift Change Band, Peter Straw and Kat Crosby joined in on a mixed bag of tunes from the blues to the Rolling Stones, which had some dancers up and moving including local music aficionado, Alyssa Martin and writer & celeb Chef Judi, who was there to celebrate with JR. There was a dinner for the local media that was superb. The amazing dessert was the best part, vanilla ice cream with homemade guava empanadas and mini churros. They also have a chocolate peanut butter pie on the dessert menu that is to die for!
Musicians around the Suncoast have been playing at the Packinghouse for years. There is an open mic night on Mondays as well as a full schedule of players every night from 7-10 pm except Sunday, when they are closed for a day of rest. There is a lot to check out around the place. Old instruments hanging from the ceilings, license plates on the walls, lots of fun junk to look at and as they say, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”. The vibe at JR’s is super laid back and comfortable. Come as you are, enjoy the great food and listen to some blues. After having survived a fire in 2016, it took some time for rebuilding but JR’s is back stronger than before. It is one of Sarasota’s hometown treasures!
JR’s Old Packinghouse Cafe
987 S. Packinghouse Road, Sarasota, FL 34232
Photos from Vicky Sullivan / The Sarasota Post