Here at the Veranda, our members believe that a restaurant can be more than simply a place to eat, and that a great meal is more than just tasty food. We understand there are times when food, friends, and setting come together in a way that turns dinner into An Evening.
Some of our members recently had just such an adventure at the historic (and tasty) Columbia Restaurant in the Ybor City district of Tampa, Florida.
Founded in 1905, the Columbia Restaurant claims to be Florida's oldest restaurant, and (perhaps more remarkably) has remained family-owned for over 100 years.
It began as a small cafe serving Spanish, Cuban, and Italian immigrants - but today it covers an entire city block and is has been recognized as one of the finest restaurants in the United States (check out their list of awards).
We were impressed with the Columbia's exterior - which features beautiful painted tiles (and historic markers documenting some of Ybor City's rich history).
On the inside, the Columbia consists of multiple rooms. We dined in the historic "Cafe Room". This was great because of the historic tile work and pictures on display in the room (and also because of the live piano jazz). We were also close enough to hear (although could not see) the live Flamenco dancing which the Columbia is also famous for.
We decided to check out their menu online before arriving - which was a good thing, because it is almost a book in itself. Most of the menu items come with a little story sharing the origins of the dish. Several of these stories also give glimpses into the storied history of the restaurant. Their menu is faithfully reproduced on their web site (I encourage you to check out the dinner menu -- it is a good read, but prepare to become famished!).
The online copy of the dinner menu is worth checking out!
We began by sharing some *tasty* Cuban bread and Tapas:
- Gambas Barbacoa - Char-grilled shrimp and red onion skewers, seasoned and brushed with chimichuri sauce.
- Empanadas de Picadillo - Grandmother's recipie, served with roasted corn and black bean salsa.
For the main course, everyone at our table decided to order something different. This was great, since it allowed everyone to sample and share:
- Pompano en Papillot - Pompano fish with seafood stuffing, wrapped in parchment and baked.
- Roast Pork "A la Cubana" - Served with black beans, white rice, yuca and plantanos.
- Arroz con Pollo "Valenciana" - The best chicken and yellow rice I have ever eaten.
- Paella "A la Velanciana" - Seafood, chicken, pork, yellow rice and veg. Individually prepared in a traditional pealla pan. Simply magnificent.
I was particularly impressed by how the Arroz con Pollo and the Paella each had a distinct flavor - even though they shared many of the same basic ingredients.
To accompany our Spanish feast, we selected a bottle of Pascual Toso Reserve Malbec 2009 from Argentina from the extensive and amazing wine list.
As you may have guessed by now, we were extremely impressed by the Columbia restaurant. So much so that we left with a bag of goodies from the giftshop, including a very neat cookbook and a sangria-in-a-bag kit (complete with ingredients, a hand-painted pitcher, and a wooden spoon :-]).
The cookbook is also available on Amazon.com
In summary, we had a fabulous evening at The Columbia Restaurant, and will certainly be back for more.
We encourage you to check it out for yourself. Although we suggest you venture to their original location in Tampa's Ybor City, they also have eight other locations throughout Florida (including one in Celebration, FL).
- The Management