My introduction to Spanish Bean Soup happened when I moved to Florida. One of my colleagues took me on a tour of Ybor City which included the landmark Columbia Restaurant in Tampa's historic Ybor City in 1905. Today, it’s Florida’s Oldest Restaurant and the world's largest Spanish restaurant. This place literally takes up the entire block, and has a museum across the street from that.
The Columbia’s founder, Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., adapted his version from the heavy, multi-course cocido madrilène stew of Spain. His simplified version served elements of the original feast – meat (ham bone, beef bone, salt pork, chorizo/Spanish sausage), saffron, potatoes and garbanzos – in one bowl.
Between you and me, soup is actually one of the first things that I look for when I visit a restaurant. If there is a choice between soup or a salad on the menu, I'm going for the soup. I'm a Jamaican, and Jamaican's like a good pot of soup. Salads are nice, but I can get that anytime. I want something that's been simmering on the stove and that has the power to warm my soul. It can't be just any ol' soup either, it has to be something pretty spectacular.
I have to admit that I was skeptical and didn't know if this beautiful historical restaurant would meet my picky taste-bud standards. However, with the Columbia Restaurant being in business for over 110 years, I really had nothing to worry about. To my surprise this soup totally surpassed and exceeded my expectations. It was soooooo delicious. I think I could literally taste every ingredient with each spoon full. I just found myself eating faster and faster. Before I knew it, it was all gone and I ordered a quart to go, LOL.
While I chose to enjoy dine on the soup that made the Columbia famous for food. They actually sell many of the same century-old family recipes that have made the Columbia world famous, entrees such as Paella "a la Valenciana," Red Snapper "Alicante," Pompano en Papillot, Roast Pork "A la Cubana" and Filet Mignon "Chacho.” You can even enjoy nightly live entertainment with flamenco dancers, visit their museum, and shop unique gifts such as hand-painted Spanish ceramics plus “1905” salad dressing, Cuban and American roast coffee, hot sauce and Columbia seasoning.
If you're ever in the Tampa/Florida area and looking for a legendary meal, stop by the Columbia Restaurant.