Written by Puff Staff

Monday, 30 May 2005

User Rating: / 1

leisure and relaxationrestaurants and dining
the columbia restaurantybor city

The Columbia Restaurant is the nation's largest Spanish restaurant and Florida's oldest at 100 years old. Started in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez in the burgeoning cigar capitol of Ybor City Tampa, they now have 7 locations in Florida as well as their own cigar factory and store, where they make the "Gonzalez y Martinez" brand of cigars.

Columbia Restaurant - SarasotaI was on the West coast of Florida recently and decided to visit two of The Columbia's locations. On my way driving up the coast, I stopped in at the Sarasota location on St. Armand's Circle and then drove an hour North to the original location in Tampa's Ybor City. I have been to both locations to eat, drink and smoke several times throughout the years. The Columbia remains one of my favorite places. I even have their cookbook.

In Sarasota, John Monetti, the General Manager (pictured below) was very gracious in granting me his time as my visit was impromptu and they were right in the middle of preparations to open for the day's business.  We picked out a couple of Gonzalez y Martinez cigars from the humidor and browsed the gift shop.




In the gift shop, they sell the Columbia Restaurant Spanish Cookbook, which not only has 178 recipes, but the history of The Columbia as well. I've had the book for several years and frequently use the recipes to recreate my favorite menu items.  

They still serve some of the original dishes from 1905, such as; Spanish Bean Soup, (which combines sausage, garbanzo beans, and potatoes in beef stock); Arroz con Pollo, (the classic chicken and rice dish); an authentic Cuban Sandwich; and the 1905 Salad, dressed with the family's special blend of fresh garlic, oregano, wine vinegar, lemon juice, and Spanish olive oil. 

Two of my favorite dishes that I frequently make at home are; Lobster Columbia, which combines onion, green peppers, garlic, tomato, chopped ham, sliced mushrooms, lobster and shrimp; and Picadillo (Cuban Beef Hash) which includes ground beef, onions, garlic, green peppers, olives and raisins among other ingredients.

In Sarasota, there is ample outdoor sidewalk seating, which is great for people watching. Or, if you'd like some eye-candy while you sit at the bar, bartender Stella is one of the best reasons to get drunk during the day.  
Stella - Columbia Restaurant Sarasota
The Columbia is also the place where I had my first "Cuban Manhattan". This one got left out of the book somehow, but it's easy to make. It's just like a regular Manhattan, except you substitute rum for the bourbon. I'll have to make sure that one gets included in our drinks section of the site.

After taking several photos of Stella while she posed like a professional model (I think she's done this before), I reluctantly pulled myself away from her, said adios to Sarasota and made the 1 hour and 15 minutes drive North to Tampa's Ybor City. 

Next stop - The original Columbia Restaurant to check out the cigar factory and store. John paved the way for me with a phone call to the store manager, Meylin Garcia, who gave me a hearty welcome with a big smile. (Everybody is super-nice at both locations I visited.)

Meylin was kind enough to demonstrate how the in-store rollers make the cigars, since they did not have a roller working while I visited on Saturday. There is usually a cigar roller there Monday - Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. I think Meylin is cuter than the regular cigar roller though. 

As I write this, I am smoking the Gonzalez y Martinez Torpedo Maduro accompanied by a Starbucks Frappuccino. It's an excellent combination of a sweet drink with a full-bodied cigar that burns perfectly with a nice white ash. This shows that the cigar was well-rolled with quality tobacco. The wrapper is nice and dark, and the cigar is dressed with a handsome red, black and gold band. Blue smoke permeates my home office while I look at pictures of Stella and Meylin on a Sunday afternoon. Life ain't bad.

The Gonzalez y Martinez brand made by The Columbia offers six different sizes, both in natural and maduro for 12 cigars to choose from including; Churchill, Corona, Robusto, Perfecto #1, Perfecto #2 and Torpedo. They can be purchased in Bundles of 25, Boxes of 10, a sampler pack of 4, gift box of 3, or in singles.

Here's Meylin taking us through the steps of creating their cigars.

Choosing the Tobacco Leaves
cigar leaf

Cigar Factory Sign
Rolling the Cigar
cigar rolling

Cutting the End
cigar cutting

The Columbia is one of Florida's finest treasures and a must-experience for Spanish food lovers and cigar smokers. Different locations offer flamenco dance performances, cigar bar café, live jazz, tapas, spirits and cigars.

If you are in Sarasota or Tampa, be sure to visit The Columbia and tell them sent you. Visit their web site at

Buy the Columbia Recipe Book with 178 recipes
Columbia Restaurant Cookbook


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