You're probably too young to remember this, but in 1905 the greatest restaurant in the solar system - Columbia Restaurant - was founded in Ybor City. Today it has numerous branch locations around Florida, including St. Augustine, Tampa and Clearwater, but the one nearest and dearest to my heart is on St. Armand's Key. This was the first Columbia's I experienced, so I suppose I've been imprinted on this one.
(Yes, I am a habitual indiscriminate adder of apostrophe-S to places whose names lack them, at will. Sue me.)
If I could choose only one thing to eat for the rest of my life, dear reader, it would be Columbia's Steak Palomilla - and I think it might take a billion years before I began to get bored with it. Maybe two. It's a very holy thing, and words cannot convey the alchemical magic that occurs in this dish, so I won't even try. I'll just say that even if you don't take seriously any other opinion proferred herein on this blog about matters culinary, listen to me on this one. Columbia's is the alpha and omega of Florida foodiedom.
And then there's the drinks. I usually have a pitcher of Mojito or Sangria but sometimes indulge in random stabs like the Absinthe Sazerac (pictured above.) The server sets up a folding table beside you and mixes your drinks (as well as your salads) tableside while you watch. I still remember years ago, watching in awe the first time I ate here, as our server Cecilia squeezed the limes and poured the rum and conjured up a pitcher of Mojito that was more than the sum of its parts. You never forget your first time.
Did I mention that their black bean soup, covered in fresh cut onions, is worthy of being a meal all to itself?
And that their Crema Catalana dessert takes Creme Brulee to a whole new level?
Or that they have their own line of cigars, the mere mention of which has me twitching and jonesing even now? Must cut this short now and step out for a puff by the pool...