Tourist who come to experience Central Florida’s many theme parks are always in for an international journey. None more so than at Columbia Restaurant in the quaint town of Celebration.
Celebration Town is a magical creation as an extension of Walt Disney World Resort. The homes are replicas of traditional American architecture. Cobbled streets lead to a central shopping and dining area set on a waterfront. Mind you, this is no theme park. Actual people live here. Many Disney employees including high ranking officials make this area their home. There is still growth as in evident to the ongoing construction of more condos, townhomes and single family homes.
Columbia Restaurant has a history that dates back to 1905 in Tampa, Florida. The Celebration location sits facing the waterfront in a charming brick building. Very high cathedral arches wrap the patio for that mystique alfresco dining. The interior compliments with more brick, expansive leather booths, historic fixtures, low hanging fans, all in a warm space. There is a shop that sells novelty items and a very impressive wine storage.
Spanish small plate, Tapas, is served alongside classical cuisine. The menu is not limited to Spanish cuisine but draws from many of Central Florida’s Latin heritage in Cuban and Mexican. It is very difficult to make selections here as everything sounds scrumptious.
Devil Crab Croquettes A version of the original Ybor City Devil Crab Croquettes as sold on the streets by bicycle
vendors in Tampa’s Latin Quarter. Six mini croquettes with blue crab meat, Cuban cracker crumbs, paprika, onions and garlic. Grandmother and great-grandmother Aurora Gonzalez’s recipe. Served with Columbia Hot Sauce. Moist, tender, little deliciousness. Perfectly blended with slight crunch on the outside.
Costillitas de Cerdo Habana Tender baby pork ribs slowly roasted and tossed in mojo-marinated sweet onions and pepperoncinis. Firm exterior gave way to fall off the bone tenderness. Wonderfully seasoned with well balanced bold flavors.
Scallops “Casimiro” Colossal fresh scallops baked in a clay casserole with lemon butter and topped with seasoned bread crumbs and white wine. Little nuggets of tender moist juiciness. Crunchy breading adds a depth that can only be enhanced with lip smacking lemon butter. I have to be honest, after eating ALL the scallops I dipped my bread in that sauce and devoured it. More sauce please!
Paella “A la Valenciana” Their version, prepared in a traditional paella pan, features clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamares, chicken and pork, baked with Valencia rice, extra-virgin olive oil, green peppers, Spanish onions, ripe tomatoes, garlic, spices and splashed with white wine. This preparation for two was served tableside. A classical European technique of fork over spoon divided this pan with much artistry and fanfare, very impressive. The flavors of this plate was like a the ups and downs of a salsa routine. It carried and stopped with emphasis on technique and pronunciation. A simple marvel.
A glass of Licia Albariño Rías Baixas, Spain, was a perfect compliment to all of these dishes. The tart acidic mineral melody of the old world with subtle nose lingered on the back palate for a clean long finish. Regional wines pair extremely well with regional food. Why have a variety that you can find in any restaurant?
We really don’t have to travel all the way to Europe to experience Spain, we can do that right here in Central Florida. The attention to detail with moderate presence ensured that service was delivered without being overtly hovering. Atmosphere and music set the stage for an enchanting journey. There is a reason that this restaurant has been around forever, they do it well. Very well.