experiences

A Taste of Tampa History: Columbia Restaurant

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Having grown up in the area, I’d always heard of the famous Columbia Restaurant, but never had a chance to go. When I wound up back in town a few weekends ago, it was at the top of my list.

I was a little skeptical, thinking perhaps that the food flavors for which it became famous might be a thing of the past and it was just the steady stream of tourists kept it going. But I’d also heard the actual building was lovely and historic, so despite there being a branch, Columbia Cafe, not a half a mile from the hotel, I drove us to Ybor City to the original location.

Columbia Restaurant Ybor City Tampa

And the building was delightful! It was a mix of well worn ornate decor, and slightly flashier modern touches, like the neon lights outside. 🙂

Columbia Restaurant Tampa Main Dining Room

Columbia Restaurant Interior decor

The menu was extensive, and it was difficult to pick. I wound up ordering the  “Tapeo Sampler”, which was three choices from the tapas menu. The wine list was also interesting, and I couldn’t resist ordering a glass of the specially produced RG Malbec-Tempranillo. Sales of the wine went towards a scholarship fund and it had been created in conjunction with the owner of O. Fournier, a winery near Mendoza that I had wanted to visit (but couldn’t) on my wine tasting trip to the Uco Valley.

Keri Columbia Restaurant Ybor City

We hadn’t made reservations, just showed up at 7PM. They were able to seat us in about 15 minutes, but we were still pretty hungry at that point and very glad when individual loaves of soft hot bread showed up wrapped in paper.

Columbia Restaurant bread

The food started coming out soon. My friend had ordered their famous Original 1905 Salad, which earned them a place on USA Today’s “One of 10 Great Places to Make a Meal Out of a Salad” list. And it was great! Mixed at the table with a simple dressing that reminded me restaurants from my childhood. I could have been happy just eating that all night!

Columbia Restaurant Original 1905 Salad

I had ordered one of the tapas on special — the glazed pork with apricots. It tasted better than this picture suggests, but compared to some of the other dishes it was just ok.

Columbia Restaurant pork with apricots

The winner of the night was the Pollo al Ajillo! Some of the best chicken, fried or otherwise I’ve ever had. “Chicken dusted in seasoned flour, fried then topped with a sauce of fresh sliced garlic sauteĂ©d in extra-virgin olive oil, Spanish Piquillo peppers” etc. The breading was incredibly delicate, the chicken was moist, and the garlic…YUM! Now I just wanted to be eating that all night!

Columbia Restaurant Pollo al Jillo

My friend’s selection of the Croquetas de Pollo was the second favorite. Lightly fried and tangy.

Columbia Restaurant Croquetas de Pollo

The Shrimp Supreme, fresh Gulf Shrimp wrapped in bacon and fried was good, but couldn’t hold a candle to the other two. There was a bit too much breading and not enough shrimp/bacon flavors.

Columbia Restaurant Shrimp Supreme

I wasn’t in the mood for dessert, but I wound up glad my friend was. The highlight of the evening was watching our waiter blow torch her creme brulee.

Columbia Restaurant Creme Brulee

The crust was not the typical brittle hard crust and more of a molasses texture which added to our enjoyment. (Of course I wound up wanting a little dessert after that performance!)

I had been skeptical but hopeful before we went and I was really happy with our experience. Next time I’m in town I will definitely be swinging back by to pick up salad and Pollo al Aijillo.

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

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