Entering Drago’s in downtown Bradenton feels a bit like stepping into an alternate reality, one in which Cuba and Italy joined landmasses and in the process of comingling accidentally combined the aesthetics of a trattoria with the menu of a Cuban café. Fernando Drago, the namesake proprietor, is the nonfictional byproduct of this fictional multiverse, a man who
has taken the best traits of each culture and blended them into a jovial, fast-talking personage whose ultimate goal is to put meat on patrons’ bones (his words). 

Originally from Nassau County on Long Island, Drago radiates the customary pizzazz and pride of a New York native. His mother was a Cuban ballet dancer, and from her he learned how to wiggle his hips. His Sicilian father was a chef, and from him he inherited his virtuosity in and around a kitchen. “I can cook and dance,” he jokes, “my wife will never leave me.” And as the trilingual gatekeeper of his restaurant, Drago often welcomes guests in English, assigns them a Spanish term of endearment and then fares them well in Italian.

But if making friends with a loud-laughing, quirky guy like that isn’t enough to lure the hungry, perhaps the food will be. Like any Cuban eatery, Drago’s lives and dies by its mojo pork, which cooks in a porcelain pot for 12 hours in house-made mojo marinade. Drago’s Cuban sandwich is a monolith of garlicky and tangy pork topped with Swiss cheese and a pickle slice, then brushed with butter and baked lightly to melt the cheese and infuse the fluffy Cuban bread with the mouth-watering flavors. Served with a fistful of matchstick fries and a side of black beans and rice, the meal may induce a 12-hour food coma. Passersby looking for an unplanned dessert or a caffeine fix can have both with Drago’s affogato, an Italian dessert featuring a scoop of salted caramel and pecan ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it, forming an unexpectedly rich symbiosis. Those wanting to feel fat and sassy should try both.