The Columbia Restaurant in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa is Florida’s oldest restaurant. If the food and service is indicative, it will be around for a long time to come.
Founded in 1905, Columbia has grown from a small 60-seat corner café to taking up a city block. The restaurant has expanded over the years, adding several dining rooms totaling 52,000 square feet and seating 1,700 people. Based on the crowds we saw during our visit, it’s routine. The staff managed large and small groups very efficiently. Service was never sacrificed.
The restaurant had a variety of guests. Some people were just in for dinner. Some were on dates. There were some business dinners. And definitely a lot celebrations going on – birthdays, anniversaries, and such. Everyone was treated special.
The restaurant’s décor was beautiful and impressive. Old photos adorn the walls.
Sculptures can be found scattered around the restaurant.
Dinner was amazing! We started with an appetizer of Devil Crab Croquettes. The crab cakes were served with a side of the restaurant’s hot sauce.
Lisa tried a new dish – Paella Marinera. It had a base of Valencia rice served with seafood – clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and calamares. She liked it.
I had “The Bambino.” It’s called that, because Babe Ruth often dined at Columbia when he was in Tampa. The one-time major league home run king had a 14-oz. steak, roasted potatoes and Champinones Rellenos (stuffed mushrooms). I offered Lisa the mushrooms, since I don’t care for them.
We both struggled to finish our meals. I refused to sacrifice any piece of steak. LOL. I usually don’t get steak when we travel, since Omaha has the best in the United States. But, the Bambino’s steak was delicious and challenged anything coming out of Omaha. It was dry aged for 40 days and had a light coating of the restaurant’s 1905 dressing for additional flavor. I can see why the Babe loved it.
Columbia offers a multicultural menu, if you will. It represents Ybor City well. You will find Spanish, Cuban, Mexican, Italian and American influences in dishes.
During dinner, we had the honor of getting to sit next to the stage for the nightly Flamenco dance show. A part of me wondered how many celebrities sat near where we did. Besides Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe frequented Columbia back in the day.
The lights went down and two beautiful women took the stage. They danced gracefully, then BOOM! Their heels hit the stage hard during their performance. Hand clapping, graceful moves and heel clicking are all part of Flamenco dancing.
The dance troupe consisted of a lead female dancer, four more female dancers and a male dancer. Each performed throughout.
Each dancer was amazing to watch. They are a talented group of performers. The crowd was very pleased.
Columbia has a fine inventory of various wines and sangria for guests. We didn’t partake, but others around us seemed to enjoy their drinks.
The Columbia Restaurant has expanded its locations over the years. It has six locations, in addition to the original location, in Tampa, Sarasota, Clearwater, Celebration and St. Augustine. The restaurant is definitely upscale, but people dressed in a variety of styles – from super casual Nebraska-based tourists to business casual to suit and tie and evening dresses. Regardless of how you’re dressed, you will receive the best service the staff can offer.
We enjoyed visiting the Columbia restaurant, and would dine there again. While some dishes tend to be expensive, the visit is worth it.
For more information on the Columbia, please visit www.columbiarestaurant.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Columbia for offering us the media rate. However, all opinions and views are ours.