I’m a very picky eater. So, when it comes to reviewing different restaurants, I’m not that easy to please. You already know that I’m not crazy about seafood. Well, I’m also not crazy about Latin food. Now, many of you who read this probably do like seafood and Latin cuisine, and that’s great. Take what I say here with a grain of salt, if you like salty food!
The Columbia Restaurant is very, very popular. It’s been in business for well over 100 years. And that should tell you something. There are eight locations around Florida: Celebration, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach, Sarasota and three locations in the Tampa area, the oldest location in Ybor City (outside of Tampa.) This is the one that I visited with friends. It opened in 1905.
Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez came to Ybor City in the early 1900s along with a lot of his countrymen looking for a new homeland. He opened a corner café that catered to the workers in the cigar-making industry. Now, over 100 years later, 4th and 5th generations of the original family still own and run the restaurants. Not only is Columbia the oldest restaurant in Florida, but it claims to be the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
When my friends said they wanted to go to this restaurant, I perused the menu online to find something that I could tolerate eating. I don’t like spicy food, or black beans and rice or really anything in the Mexican, Spanish or Cuban realm. But I did see that they had their “1905 Salad” which was something I could try. It was good — Romaine lettuce with ham, cheese, tomatoes, olives (I chose to opt out in the olive area) with a garlic dressing. USA Today said that the Columbia was “One of 10 Great Places to Make a Meal out of a Salad.” And that’s what I did. Accompanied by their yummy Cuban bread, the 1905 Salad does fill you up.
I also tried one of the appetizers, Croquetas de Pollo — six fried chicken croquettes rolled in Cuban cracker crumbs. These were very good. Other entrees my party tried were Pollo Manchego (breaded chicken breast with sun dried tomatoes and basil) and Camarones Rellenos “Jesse Gonzalez” (shrimp with crab meat and lemon butter.) Both were tasty, but somewhat salty.
The menu is quite extensive with several seafood, chicken, steak and vegetarian entrees. There’s a wide variety of tapas to choose from as well as salads, sandwiches and soups. The Columbia also has a gluten-free menu.
After reading the menu online, I was looking forward to trying the Silver Meteor cocktail, a combination of Spanish Sparkling Cava (champagne), blood orange liqueur and elderflower liqueur. I have to say it wasn’t what I expected. It just tasted like a glass of plain champagne. They are known for their Sangria, which is what I should have ordered.
The décor at the Ybor City location is quiet extraordinary with hand-painted tile work and elegant chandeliers. The service was wonderful. We had two waiters that were very attentive and knowledgeable. This location also features performances by Flamenco dancers (Monday through Saturday) and a live jazz band (Tuesday through Saturday.) They even have a gift shop where you can buy the 1905 Salad dressing, sangria mix, and pottery imported from Spain.
The Columbia Restaurant has won many awards, including being named one of the top restaurants in Florida since 1967. It’s been named an All-American icon by Nation’s Restaurant News. And with 8 locations and various other accolades, they must be doing something right. Just because I’m not a big fan of Cuban food doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. But if you are a big fan, you probably already have!
Dates of Visit: July 21, 2012
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