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RESTAURANT OF THE WEEK
A PERSONAL REVIEW OF RESTAURANTS AROUND THE WORLD

COLUMBIA RESTAURANT
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

This is one of the sister restaurants of the famous Columbia Restaurant in Tampa that got its start back in 1905.  We had heard positive and negative reviews of the St. Augustine branch so we did a little investigating ourselves.

Our findings?  This is a great place.  In fact, we liked it even more than the mother ship down in Ybor City (Latin quarter of Tampa).

The cuisine here is Spanish and Cuban and it's the real deal and very tasty.  It's located in the heart of the historic district of St. Augustine and one of the famous sightseeing trolley trains stops right out in front of the restaurant.  The interior is very reminiscent of the Tampa branch.  Very Spanish in style and with an upper story and courtyard.


 

We were extremely impressed upon entering the restaurant.  Everybody was extremely friendly and seemed to genuinely enjoy working there.  You can't beat kindness out of employees and it's always nice to find a place where people enjoy coming to work and it shows!

On our first visit (lunch) I chose to start with a cup of famous Cuban black bean soup.  The black beans are summered in bay leaves and other spices and the soup is poured over rice.  In this case it is white rice.  I'm more used to yellow rice in many Spanish and Cuban restaurants in Tampa.  For my main course, I chose merluza "Russian" style.  Merluza is a fish not found around here but it is a tradition in Spain so they call it that here.  In reality, you're getting grouper.  It's breaded and lightly fried and then served with a great sauce of lemon butter, parsley and hard boiled eggs.  Sounds strange but believe me, it works!  The piece of grouper was big, probably 8 ounces.  It had colorful strips of pimento on top of the sauce and was accompanied by a generous portion of yellow rice.  The rice was a little overdone and sticky but still very, very tasty.  The fish (other than the bones, but sometimes you can't avoid them) was extremely good.  My wife went with the roast pork loin "a la Cubana."  It didn't look like a lot of food to me but she said it was tender and excellent.  I don't know how Cuban restaurants do it, but they manage to turn out the most tender, flavorful pork we've ever had.  It came with black beans and rice and plantains (large, cooking bananas that are sautéed). 


My Fresh Fish Russian Style


My Wife's Tender Piggy

On a second visit for lunch everybody at the table started with a cup of black bean soup and feasted on Cuban sandwiches.  If you've never had one, they're kind of like a sub or po-boy.  But the Cuban bread makes all the difference and once the sandwiches are loaded with ham, pork, salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, they are placed in a hot press not unlike a trouser press and come to the table nice and hot.  Outstanding!

On our next visit, I'm gonna tickle my old Tampa taste buds by trying a famous deviled crab.  Not like you're used to.  In fact it's hard to describe but delicious and you must dot it liberally with hot sauce. Yum!!!

We highly recommend Columbia while you're exploring America's oldest city.

One heads-up about parking for this restaurant.  There's a lot behind the restaurant on another little street and you can get your parking validated.  If you just park there and don't mind paying the five bucks without the validation, watch out for the shyster who takes your money.  The daily fee is $5.  I gave him a $20 and he handed me back a $5 with lightening speed.  I said:  "Wait a minute sir, I gave you a 20.  You owe me $15."   In a nasty and defensive voice he said I had given him a $10 and offered to let me search him."  We had been hoodwinked but since we had a number of friends with us, I didn't want to make a scene.  But watch out for this dirty looking son-of-a-bitch!

Columbia is located at 98 St. George Street just off famous Hypolita Street in St. Augustine.  You can find out more at their web site here.  Just punch in the St. Augustine location.