Feb. 16, 2018, Tampa—I guess you could call Jim and me “foodies.” We appreciate good food. Although we sometimes eat in “ordinary” restaurants and Chinese buffets that include freshly made sushi and sashimi, we prefer various types of ethnic foods, from Vietnamese to West Indian and everything in between. The best ethnic foods, we’ve discovered, are usually found in hole-in-the-wall restaurants frequented by peoples from that culture. We love it when we are the only non-ethnics in the place! It means the food is authentic. It has become our “rule” to seek out such restaurants when we are traveling.
Today we discovered an exception to our rule: The Columbia in Ybor City in Tampa.
The Columbia brags that it is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. It is famous for its architecture as well as its cuisine, and is spread among several adjoining buildings at the edge of Ybor City, which is famed as the (handmade) cigar-making capital of America. The Columbia was established in the late 1800’s as a corner cafe. In 1920 the owner added a dining room and decorated the restaurant in the fanciful world of Don Quixote, with hand-painted tiles and lavish furnishings. The restaurant has branches in St. Augustine, Sarasota, Clearwater Beach, Celebration, and two other locations in Tampa.
|Jim waits for lunch at The Columbia. The Don Quixote-esque decor of the restaurant can be seen in the background.|
|The Columbia uses a lot of hand-painted tiles in its decor, like these, which festooned the outside of the restaurants.|
Today, as we explored Ybor City (and learned about cigar making in America), we decided to would put aside our prejudices about dining in tourist restaurants and try The Columbia. We’re glad we did.
Jim ordered mussels and chorizo Andres, which is described: Fresh Prince Edward Island mussels, diced Chorizo, sauteed, simmered with extra virgin olive oil, onions, celery, tomato, basil, spinach and garlic splashed with dried white wine and lemon.”
When I eat at a Cuban restaurant, generally I order ropa vieja or picadillo. I passed on those choices and tried something new (to me)—salteado. The menu describes it: The Columbia’s Traditional Method of Sauté. Inspired by the Chinese who lived in Cuba in the 19th century, a very hot iron skillet with extra virgin olive oil is used to sauté onions, green peppers, fresh garlic, mushrooms, diced potatoes, chorizo, splashed with a hearty red wine. Served with yellow rice.”
I liked it more than Jim’s, so I would have to say my choice rated “muy, muy delicioso!”
This was a fine-dining experience, and the bill reflected it (for lunch). But, we agreed the price was well worth the cost. And we might consider returning—if only there weren’t so many darn good hole-in-the wall places to try!
Your Reluctant RoVer,