ARTICLE FROM TAMPABAY.COM By Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic
Thuy Café moved just down from its little strip mall some months back, but now it's comfortably ensconced in a new St. Petersburg location (5944 34th St. N, No. 22; (727) 521-6406). Vietnamese variety shows on the TV and a few low-slung couches make it an easy place to while away an hour or two, but the bulk of the business seems to be quick in-and-outs for boba tea and one of 10 styles of banh mi.
Boba for the uninitiated is a curious thing. Milky tea or fruity smoothies (more than 50 flavors) get a big scoop of chewy tapioca balls, which you slurp up through an extra-fat straw. A Taiwanese craze that has swept the planet, new boba twists are added all the time. I had a fabulous boba milk tea with added coffee jellies that introduce intense bursts of coffee flavor as they blast out the top of the straw. It's as kooky as a beverage gets.
But back to the banh mi. They're all $3.50, the No. 1 being, well, the No. 1. It's called the "Vietnamese specialty" and you see them stacked up on the counter with their layers of meat — grilled pork, chewy pork skin, a salty ham they call jambon and a spongy, pate-like head cheese — awaiting a customer before the veggies and herbs are added in. There's a haunting five-spice flavor to this sandwich that adds an elegant note to the rest of the salty-sweet-sour-spicy goodness. Each of the meats is available solo (as are sardines, chicken, meatballs and tofu), but there's a textural symmetry achieved with the four together.
Still don't quite see the appeal? Think of a perfect BLT. Yup, drippy tomato, the salt of bacon, the crunch of iceberg, a little mayo to bring it all together and put pink dribbles down your shirt. It's like that, only with a little spice and little herbal zing.