The Columbia
 St. Pete Beach, Florida        Date of Visit  08/19/12

Our Floridian hosts continue to steer us to memorable meals like our dinner the night before at Red Mesa so I was jazzed for our destination for tonight. A local landmark and one of fifty National Icons according to National Restaurant News, The Columbia has been delivering Cuban dishes in Tampa since 1905. Florida’s oldest restaurant. With a handful of locations we headed to St. Pete Beach where the restaurant is located at the end of The Pier on the fourth floor of structure overlooking the water. We strolled past loads of fishers some with arms and a bunch with feathered wings.



The restaurant has a birds eye view of the bay and tables available along the windows on a Sunday night. Our server did a pretty nice job with tableside preparation and the rest of his chores. His menu suggestions turned out to be pretty questionable but what can you do, tastes differ; as long as he wasn’t pushing what the kitchen needed to get rid of in a hurry. The menu is full of story and options and we took some time to read. While we studied we were delivered glasses of red sangria and pieces of loaves of Cuban bread.

Good Spanish red wine and citrus was nice. The bread is magnificent! The paper thin crust, which almost shatters when compressed, wraps around deeply yeasty and warm fluffy bread. They provide quite a loaf and at first I thought I would try the bread and save room for the rest but it wasn’t meant to be. Just too good. The menu says the Family’s Sunday dinners always started with Great Grandmother’s Croquettas de Pollo and we started the same way as we continued through the menu.


Everybody's Fishing

Now There's A View

Two Please

Stunningly Great...Forget Lay's Chips...There Was No Stopping.

Six fried nuggets of chicken and Cuban cracker crumbs were a nice start, although the menu said they are served with the house hot sauce which never made it to the table. Hot and juicy they were pretty good sans sauce. We ordered a couple of salads, a Caesar and the trademarked Original “1905” salad. The Caesar was pretty standard, while their 1905 looked pretty standard as well, at least without the tableside preparation. Iceberg lettuce, ham, Swiss cheese, tomato, olives and Romano cheese, you know, a salad. The difference is the garlic dressing. The server rolled up with a gueridon and built the dressing before tossing the salad in the same bowl. The standout flavor wasn’t the garlic  but the healthy dose of Worcestershire Sauce which made the entire salad something different, not something I couldn’t live without but a refreshing change of pace. I might have to try a little shake in my next vinaigrette.

Crunchy Cuban Chicken Croquettes

Average Caesar

The 1905 Is A Salad And A Show

It Was More Original Than Expected In Flavor

For dinner we tried a couple of beef dishes and four Tapas offerings. Their New York Strip, “The Bambino” takes it’s name from the ball player’s affection for one or two of them for dinner. Served with potato options and seasoned with the garlic dressing from the salad it looked tasty. The second beef dish was the Palomilla. Thin cut top sirloin is grilled and topped with mojo crudo, a mix of onion, parsley and lime juice. The beef itself was overdone and chewy but the mojo crudo on top lent a nice flavor to the steak. The rice and platanos which accompanied the steak were incredibly flavorful. The fried plantains in particular were easily some of the best I have had not being a fan of several I had tried before. Starchy and lightly sweet a browned exterior added additional depth of flavor.


The Bambino. Fittingly A NY Strip

Sides Eclipsed The Chewy Palomilla

The tapas turned out to be a pretty mixed bag, ours were Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, Shrimp Supreme, Chorizo "Española" and Empanadas de Picadillo. The peppers were stuffed with mushrooms, chorizo and serano ham and baked in an almond pepper sauce and lastly topped with Manchego cheese. Not bad but the peppers really suffered in comparison to the rellenos from Red Mesa the night before. Where the poblano brought heat the piquillos were left wanting. The rellenos had evolving layers the peppers here were a singular mash which couldn’t maintain interest.

The shrimp were huge and coated in a thick and crunchy fried crust. They were overdone but the crust was flavorful and the lightly spiced aioli was nice. The most interesting of the four to me were the Chorizo slices. Having imbibed in the Mexican version of the pork sausage I was greatly surprised by the Cuban offering. Much closer to pepperoni than other chorizos I’m acquainted with it turned the onions a little red and did a pretty nice job topping the fluffy crackers. The empanadas were the best of the four by far. Spiced ground beef with garlic, onion, tomato, raisins and olives are all wrapped in fried pastry dough. The dough had been heated to a brown crunchy crisp and the hot interior was delicious and interesting. Top it all with a roasted corn and black bean salsa and I’d be crunching all day.

Peppers Couldn't Compare To Red Mesa

Shrimp Were Okay

Surprising Chorizo Spice Profile

Empanadas Were Delicious

The night before we had managed to delay gratification and forgo the dessert menu. Alas, our self-regulation wasn’t to last long. Actually, we more than made up for our self-control the night before. A tray appeared and while the desserts looked good overall I seem to remember one plate as particularly appealing. Okay, it was calling out to us like Sirens luring sailors into the rocky shoals…and it actually delivered instead of leading to ruin. First the other two…we tried the white chocolate bread pudding on the recommendation of our server and it was fine, it was covered with shavings of Godiva, it was the point when I really started to wonder if he was pushing the dregs of the kitchen. He said this was his favorite dessert. It wasn’t bad, it was bread pudding which takes more than a little white chocolate and dark shavings to make it worthwhile.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding...Ehhhh

Sauces Made The Churros

We also ordered the Churros “Tres Amigos”. The fried dough itself suffered to some degree by not being fresh. Like any doughnut, as the seconds tick between fryer to mouth, you rapidly loose awesome. These were miles from Rick Bayliss’s sublime version from Xoco.  In this case the cinnamon sugared and star shaped choux was certainly dry and cold but the three buddies helped elevate it past the bread pudding. Two of the toppings were expected sauces of chocolate and caramel were nice but couldn’t compete with the third which we don’t see much up North. Guava sauce. If you haven’t they are their own deal but approach something like a mix of strawberry and pear, such a treat. Now when it comes to this tasty fruity pulp, this is exactly what was calling out to me and our party in the dessert that mixed, baked AND took the cake!

This Makes Me Want To Vacation In Cuba

Guava Awesomeness

The “Carmita”. A guava turnover. Oh Lordy!!! Flaky crispy pastry filled with guava and cream cheese and dusted with large irregular sugar crystals and then set into a pool of vanilla bean crème anglaise, unbelievable. Trust me go ahead and sail your ship into the rocks…they’re not rocks…just shards of crunchy sugar coating absolute scrumpiousity. So sad it’s so far away.

Not everything at The Columbia was right up my alley but it is a world cuisine that I am not all that familiar with so I am sort of ordering blind. There were surprises of all sorts, some dishes that were fine, some seriously good and a couple that were simple outstanding.

Add that to a sense of history, killer view, fun folks and I will remember The Columbia very fondly…and will be dreaming about Mi Carmita.


Since 1905, Nuff Said



What's Best

What's Worst

  B C+ A A C B+  
        Much Some Misses    
All Restaurants By Ranking Restaurants By Date These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things Steph's Favorite Things
Home List of Restaurants by City The Ratings What's Rated Random Thoughts