The Columbia Restaurant—Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

I spent most of last week at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in
Tampa, missing some actual springlike days in Muncie (yes, we are headed to highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s on Tuesday—blechhhh). Although I saw some interesting research presented (and shared some of my own), perhaps the best part of these conferences is connecting with friends one sees only rarely (often at academic conferences!) And, as a corollary, one tends to dine with them, a chance to visit local restaurants.

My dear friend Nellie and I chose to dine at The Columbia Restaurant, located in Tampa’s historic Ybor City (once known as the Cigar Capital of the World—in its heyday, Spanish, Cuban, and Italian immigrants were employed to handroll the cigars). The Columbia is Florida’s oldest restaurant (since 1905) and I believe that many of the waiters were original. The place is huge! I am not exaggerating—15 dining rooms that can seat up to 1700 people (some of these are used for private functions). The place was also jam-packed with diners—we arrived quite early and were lucky to wait only 20 minutes for a table. Anyway, Nellie and I shared a variety of tapas—scallops, grilled meat skewers, queso fundido, and my personal favorite, piquillo peppers stuffed with chorizo, mushrooms, and Manchego cheese. As delicious as these were, especially with a glass of sangria, it was the dessert that may have been the meal’s high point, the Guava Turnover. Imagine sweetened cream cheese and guava paste, enveloped in puff pastry, on a bed of vanilla sauce with extra dollops of guava paste. Then imagine forkfuls of this entering your mouth. I do watch my sugar intake, but this was worth every single gram of it!