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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lunch Report: The Columbia, Ybor City...

You may recall that my wife and I yammered on endlessly about lunch at The Columbia in St. Augustine during our trip there in December. Well the original Columbia is located in Tampa in the historic Ybor City district, and since we just happened to jump off the plane during lunch hour, we thought we would take the kids for a visit. The setting in St. Augustine is certainly different than Ybor City, where, though it is certainly an area attempting to attract visitors, there is still local traffic and commerce taking place; don't be shocked if you experience an earthquake-like thumpity-thump of some sick ride with 20-inch rims and such. But once inside, you are transformed back to what we had expected of this old favorite.I'll dispense with the excess details and get right to the vittles. We were somewhat famished, so when the waiter brought us our loaves of Cuban bread with butter, it was like a feeding frenzy. Watch your fingers. Make no mistake, my wife was ready for the Chicken and Yellow Rice not long after we had made our reservations for the trip to Florida; she didn't even need a menu. This is not the same Arroz con Polla you'll find at a Mexican restaurant on the west side in San Antonio, but a Cuban version described as "one quarter chicken baked with yellow rice, green peppers, onions and tomatoes, spices and virgin olive oil". The difference is saffron instead of cumin. They have this dish down to a science and there were no complaints. My son-in-law opted for the original Cuban, a full sized sandwich not suitable for the timid. The menu describes the Cuban as "Smoked ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and mustard on hot Cuban bread" The bread is just so soft and wonderful on the inside even though it is sort of toasted on the outside. It came with fried plantain chips - pretty tasty.My son and I opted for the Half and Half. This is half a Cuban and half of a 1905 Salad. You already got the run-down on the Cuban. The 1905 is all sorts of good. The waiter comes to the table to finish building it, then serves it up. They explain it like this: "Crisp iceberg lettuce with julienne of baked ham, natural Swiss cheese, tomato, olives, grated Romano cheese and our famous garlic dressing (our 100 year old family recipe of fresh garlic, oregano, wine vinegar and Spanish extra virgin olive oil)" I love a really good salad and this one ranks right up there with the best I have ever had - seriously.

My daughter (and with everyone else taking bites from it) had an awesome cheeseburger called George's Burger. Not named after any presidents you know, but instead created by long time Columbia employee George Guito, they describe it as "Grilled seasoned choice ground beef topped with cheddar cheese, Ruskin tomatoes, lettuce, onions, ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard on Cuban bread". I don't know if it was just the novelty of putting it on Cuban bread, but I kid you not, this thing was good.Just outside the restaurant, there is a cigar shop that doubles as a gift shop. I'm not a cigar smoker, but the aroma is really wonderful. And it is kinda cool to see people sitting there rolling a few stogies.

Out on the sidewalk, we found a few entertaining sidewalk pavers. You know how people pay a fee to sponsor a paver and have their family name or some special message placed on there forever. Well, sometimes, forever might be a little more than you really want. Like in this case, whoever Lysa felt strongly enough about to buy a paver for, felt even more strongly about erasing any evidence of their relationship later!

I'll leave you with this important advice found on a paver in Ybor City in front of The Columbia:

UPDATE: I got an e-mail from Mr. Richard Gonzmart, the great-grandson of the founder of The Columbia. In addition to inviting us for a tour of the restaurant on our next visit, he provided me with the all important explanation of the "Lysa" Paver. Turns out a couple got married at The Columbia on Labor Day, then got divorced two years later. And then one night, during the cover of darkness, she took the ol' chisel out and erased the evidence! I'm only speculating here, but perhaps she loves the 1905 Salad so much she wants to be able to bring future boyfriends back without the bad memories. And this my friends is why you should always think twice about getting a huge tattoo on your arm that says "Heloise".


Anonymous said...

stone...that sandwich looked to be a 8 on the tasty treat score..even that pollo and rice..but i like cumin..alestylo mexicana..enjoy..give my hello to your parents..nena

Stogie said...

my dad was a chef there for almost 50 years.

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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