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History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I am bonkers about old things: castles, historical artifacts, books. If it's a little dusty with a few tales to tell, I'm intrigued.

When I found out that Florida's oldest restaurant was just over the big bay from us during our St. Pete trip, I immediately slotted it into our Friday night plans. When Landon found out there was a flamenco show option, he gave his vote for it as well. And when I heard two different Tampa sources recommend it, I was completely sold.

At worst, I figured, it would be a hokey "cultural" dinner show, something that I could appreciate in a kitschy sort of way.

Luckily, there wasn't any kitsch involved, and my experience at the Columbia was the perfect way to end our trip to the St. Petersburg/ Tampa area.

I made reservations before we left Charleston because the restaurant's website advised me to do so in several places. I booked us a table for two for 6:00 p.m., which would include both dinner service and viewing of the 7:00 flamenco show.



We didn't have any trouble finding the restaurant--it was right off the exit and there was plenty of parking out in front. The first thing I noticed was all of the tiling and stained glass: truly, there aren't buildings made like that anymore! When I checked in with hostess in the main entrance, she informed us that we needed to enter the restaurant from the separate, flamenco-only entrance.

So, out and back in again we went. The flamenco entrance was smaller but no less beautiful. The hostess on this side told us that the entire building dated back to the original 1905 restaurant (yes, I was peppering the hostess with questions. The building was so cool!).

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I found the entire setup so intriguing. One family has owned the Columbia since its inception nearly 110 years ago. ONE FAMILY. Most families can't figure out how to get together for Christmas dinner each year, much less run a restaurant together for a century. Many of the family members still work in various positions throughout the restaurant, and the recipes that are used come from their grandparents and great-grandparents.

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I thoroughly gawked at the interior of the building (I swear, sometimes I feel so country come to town, even though I've traveled a lot. I just get so wrapped up in new experiences that I end up bumbling all over the place like someone that's never set foot on the county line) before we were led to our table. It was back in the corner and had a pretty good view of the stage, which was impressive since I'd only made the reservations two days before.

Speaking of the reservations, I'm glad I had them! The place was packed for the 7:00 p.m. flamenco show; we would have been turned away if I'd walked up. Travel tip: to ensure you get to see the flamenco show at the Columbia, make reservations.

Our waiter was polite, but not overly so. I love chatty waitstaff (perhaps because I feel that I've found a kindred spirit?), so I'm a little disappointed when I get someone who's doing the minimum in terms of conversation. Our nondescript waiter was probably the worst part of our meal, but I feel bad calling him the worst because he really wasn't that bad! Just...quiet.

ANYWAY.

Mr. Non-conversationalist brought out the menus. Landon and I already knew what we wanted since we'd looked at the menu on Landon's phone while we'd waited in traffic on the way to Busch Gardens, but we perused them anyway to be polite.

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I also used this time to practice saying my items, which were all in Spanish. I was murdering these poor phrases so badly that Landon begged me to let him order. I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of the waiter (who spoke perfect Spanish) so I let Landon order in his very-Southern accented Spanish. (Hey, it was still better than whatever I was coming up with.)

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
Please excuse the quality of the pictures from here on out. The area was lit with mood lighting to make it all romantic and such, and I wasn't about to whip out my tripod to get better pics.

We both started out with a basket of bread (which was kind of tough--I didn't each much) and a small original 1905 salad ($4.95), which ended up being one of the best salads I've ever had. It's iceberg lettuce tossed (at your table!) with Swiss cheese, Romano cheese, tomatoes, ham, green olives, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic dressing. No matter what else you get at the Columbia, you have to try the salad. This is non-negotiable.

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

We then plowed through two tapas, Champiñones Rellenos ($8.95) and Croquetas de Pollo ($7.95). The former were mushrooms stuffed with spinach, artichokes, garlic, and cheese; the latter were fried balls of chicken-y awesomeness. We got the Columbia special hot sauce to dip the croquetas in, which was so good that we doused the mushrooms in it, too. Both tapas were good, but the croquetas won out for both Landon and I.

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

As we were nibbling at our tapas, we were treated to the flamenco show. It started out with a few less-than-impressive dances, but quickly built to an engaging show.

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

Midway through the show, the audience was clapping with the dancers and shouting out (good things!) after each dance. The leader/ teacher of the five dancers did this insanely awesome acoustic dance which went on for about five minutes and was one of the coolest things I've seen lately. She was so on point that I didn't even miss the music until about halfway through the dance, when she paused for a dramatic moment.

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

The show alone was worth my trip to Ybor City, but luckily, the food ended up being great, too. We polished off two desserts, the Crema Catalana ($6.95) and the Brazo Gitano “Cien Años" ($7.95). The Crema Catalana was like a creme brulee, and the Brazo Gitano was a fruit-soaked spongecake covered in meringue. The Brazo Gitano was flambeed tableside (yay, food fire!) and my Crema Catalana caused the waiter to break out the blowtorch to caramelize the sugar on top.
History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
Post-flambeed Brazo Gitano

History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
Blow-torching in action!
History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
Crema Catalana--yum.

I was so full by the time the desserts came out that I wasn't able to give them my full attention. What I remember of both was luscious, and I wish I could go back just to eat dessert (which is my dream at every restaurant).

Overall, the experience was completely unique, and we both loved the giant exclamation point that it put on our trip.

The Columbia restaurant is located at 2117 East 7th Avenue in Tampa. Note: the Columbia also has several other locations in Florida, but the Ybor City location is the original and the only one to offer live flamenco dancing.


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History, Flamenco, and Good Eats at Florida's Oldest Restaurant: A Review of The Columbia, Ybor City, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
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