While fighting in the Spanish-American War, a Catalan soldier named Juan Moré fell in love with Cuban bread. At war’s end, he—like thousands of other western Europeans at the turn of the 20th century—immigrated to the Tampa Bay area, but not to work in the blossoming cigar industry. He moved to open a bakery. Of the three he would go on to open—La Primera, La Segunda, and La Tercera—only one remains, and is today the largest producer of traditional Cuban bread in Tampa Bay.
La Segunda Bakery sells coffee, sandwiches, pastries, cookies, and more, but their signature item is their Cuban bread. It’s made today just as it was when La Segunda opened in 1915. After mixing and rolling out their meticulously crafted dough (Moré’s nephew, a chemistry doctorate, ran the business for a time and tinkered endlessly with the recipe), the loaves are set in front of high-powered fans to harden the exterior, which creates a distinct crackly crust.
The loaves are baked for 45 minutes, but not before a single palmetto leaf (Florida’s state tree, no less) is stretched over each one—just as Juan Moré learned in Cuba. Some say the leaves hold in moisture, others say it’s to give the loaves their aesthetic split, and still others say it’s a holdout from an era of less-reliable ovens, when burnt leaves would indicate which pockets of the oven were hotter than others. Whatever the reason, the process produces long, thin loaves with a crispy exterior and a soft, pillowy interior that retains a slightly sour flavor. If the leaf bit seems unnecessary, it’s not slowing this bakery down.
La Segunda bakes 18,000 leaf-laden loaves daily, shipping both locally (the regionally iconic and also century-old Tampa eatery Columbia Restaurant serves La Segunda bread) and as far away as Alaska, it’s said. The Cuban bread is also used in a handful of house-made sandwiches like the Muffaletta, Mojo Chicken Cesar, Cuban, and Patrinostro, though it’s also available for individual purchase. Cuban pastries include a Flip Guava Cheese (sugar coated pie dough, guava, and cream cheese), Quesito (caramelized pastry dough, cream cheese), and Coconut Turn Over (pastry dough with coconut filling), and the cafe con leche is known for its strong flavor and a great way to wash down a hearty sandwich.
Know Before You Go
La Segunda has three locations—one in Ybor City (the original), one in St. Pete, and one in Kennedy. Each one is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. While there is no dine-in at the original location, they do offer take-out and delivery.