Columbia Cafe is cozily situated in a cute corner of the Tampa Bay History Center, with a beautiful water view of Garrison Channel and attractive outdoor seating for days when it's not a hundred and eleventy degrees outside (unlike this particularly Sunday). Furthermore...why have I not heard more about the Tampa Bay History Center? It is quite a cool little museum which we really enjoyed touring while detoxing after lunch.
Since UD melts faster in heat than the Wicked Witch of the West when doused in water, we opted to enjoy the very civilized air-conditioned interior of the cafe. We got excellent service from Columbia neophyte, Ricky, who divulged to us that he had only been working there for a couple of weeks. In fact, we took his his Cava Sangria virginity. That's right...he made his veryfirst pitcher of it for us. Don't worry...we were gentle with him and no one ever would've guessed it was his first time.
Columbia's Empanadas de Picadillo are things of beauty that I can never seem to pass up and today was no exception. There are few things more wonderful than these pastry purses filled with spicy beef, chopped onions, garlic and green olives...especially when garnished with Columbia's black bean and corn salsa. When UD and I traveled to Argentina, I snarfed empanadas de picadillo everywhere I found them (which was pretty much everywhere) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Columbia's are incredibly authentic. These are the best I've eaten in the U.S., for sure.
The spousal unit wasn't terribly hungry, having indulged in a snack bowl of Lucky Charms an hour or so before lunch. Still, he made room for a crusty slab of Cuban bread and a hearty cup of Spanish bean soup (a savory blend of chorizo, salt pork, chick peas, potatoes and saffron). And look at the nice butter presentation! Have I ever mentioned how much I despise being presented with foil-wrapped butter pats when I'm dining in an establishment any nicer than an IHOP? I may have...once or twice at the most.
I think my $9.95 "Half and Half" entree (which is the choice of two from the selection of half a Cuban sandwich, a half order of Columbia's 1905 salad and a cup of soup) is the lunch deal of the century. I selected the hot pressed Cuban half and the 1905 salad, which is a refreshing blend of chilled iceberg lettuce, ham and Swiss cheese strips, tomatoes (which were excluded at my request), green olives, grated Romano cheese and a garlicky oil and vinegar dressing laced with oregano. I went in hungry and could barely eat it all. Muy rico!
Underdog went rogue and ordered the Devil Crab Croquette, which shocked me considering the horrific Carmine's "Devil Crab" debacle...but that's another story. This was a completely different devil crab...an edible one. In fact, a delicious one. Moist, seasoned blue crab meat was formed into a football shape, rolled in Cuban breadcrumbs and deep fried to golden brown perfection. Quite a rich and substantial offering for the paltry sum of $3.95.
Both feeling rather sated at this point, we opted to split one of the the Guava and Cream Cheese pastries for dessert. This was some pretty remarkable shiznit. Airily light, sugar-crusted pastry concealed a decadent center of gooey guava preserves and cream cheese...the perfect size for two to share as a sweet ending to a lovely (under $50 with sangria) brunch.
Come December, you will certainly want to consider dining al fresco at Columbia Cafe...check out the view!