Wine Dine and Play: Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant

The Columbia Restaurant was the first restaurant to open in the state of Florida and now has chains in several other cities. This review for Wine Dine and Play is based at the Sarasota location.

October 2019 review  /  February 2016 review

The Oldest Gem Of Spanish Florida Dining Experiences
Sarasota, Florida, USA
Cuisine Style: Cuban, Spanish
Average Price: $$
Overall Rating: 3/5
Dined in February 2016
Article Updated: December 2019

By Sean Overpeck (CFE)
**A full article and index glossary of restaurants, wines, recipes and travel for 
Wine Dine and Play are in the pages section above, or by following these links:

Columbia Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Executive Chef and CEO:
Richard Gonzmart

Richard Gonzmart is the fifth generation family owner and CEO of Columbia Restaurant

General Manager for Sarasota Location:
John Monetti

The oldest restaurant in America is The Old 76 House in New York State established in 1686. In 1845 Florida became the 27th State of the United States after both Spanish and British rule. A few years before the great migration, in 1905, the first restaurant in Florida opened; Columbia Restaurant in the Spanish / Cuban section of Tampa known as Ybor City. Today it is being run by the 4th and 5th generations of the same family, and now has branched out to seven more locations as of 2016. They are also famous for a small sandwich creation that has become a household name and is now available in many Florida Restaurants called the Cubano Sandwich. This is roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on homemade Cuban bread. There are arguments that the sandwich was created by Cuban immigrants in Miami which adds salami to the sandwich. This was due to the Italian influences. The Cuban bread is made in Tampa then sent to Miami where the sandwich was made for the workers looking for a cheap lunch to eat. The original version of this sandwich was made by the Taíno tribe in Cuba 500 years ago. With the European influence and melting pot, the sandwich is much different today. In 2012, the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich" was designated as the "signature sandwich of the city of Tampa" by the Tampa City Council.

The dining room of the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / Sarasota Dining Room
The Columbia Restaurant locations include the flagship restaurant in Tampa’s historic Ybor City, plus additional locations to include St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota where this article is based, the historic district in St. Augustine, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Central Florida's Town of Celebration, the Columbia Cafe on the Riverwalk in Tampa, and the Columbia Restaurant Cafe at Tampa International Airport. All Columbia locations are owned and operated by the members of the founding family; except for the Tampa International Airport; which is operated in partnership with HMSHost. In 2016 the restaurant celebrated its 111 anniversary of the grand opening. Their menu is a combination fusion of  Spanish and Cuban cuisines, with recipes handed down for five generations starting with their great-grandfather Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., and tweaked on occasion. Some recipes still remain the same way they were served back in 1905 such as their Spanish Bean Soup. 

Columbia Restaurant Menu:
Bebidas, Cerveza, & Cocktails

My wife and I, along with her dad and stepmother dined at the St. Armand's Circle location in Sarasota. The circle is a mecca for higher-end shops, restaurants, and bars sitting next to Lido, Bird, and Otter Keys on Sarasota Bay, a hop, skip and jump from the Gulf of Mexico. The circle center is a park with Renaissance-style statues and historical markers branching outward into four color-coded quadrants (purple, pink, gold, and aqua). Columbia is located in the gold quadrant. All toll, the circle has 33 statues on the walk. Listed on the National Register Of Historic Places John Ringling recreated classical Greek & Roman art sculpture combining the realistic portrayal of individual beauty & the humanistic aspects of idealized beauty, making St. Armand’s Circle an even greater attraction.

A map picture of St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / A Map of the circle

Besides the nearly 300 bottles offered in their wine cellar from various parts of the world, their cocktail list is just as impressive. A classic mojito on a summer day is the perfect way to start, but when you are in Florida, you can have it in the winter as well. The signature drink is the 1905 Martini commemorating the centennial served with Cabrales cheese stuffed marinated olives. The cheese is a mixture of raw cows, goats, and sheep's milk aged for two and four months in naturally formed limestone caves. Unlike other blue cheeses injected with penicillium, Cabrales cures from the outside of the cheese to the inward through the natural humid conditions in the cave. The PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) for this cheese is in the Upper Peñamerella region of Spain.

If a martini or mojito doesn’t whet your appetite, then they have assorted margaritas, and daiquiris as well. Interested in some Cerveza (Spanish for beer), then don’t go for your basics that you can get at any restaurant, try the beers crafted at the Cigar City Brewing Company to which Columbia offers 2 of the more than 50 types of beer that they produce. You can have their Maduro Brown ale at 5.5% ABV, rated at 96 points and is a Northern English-style brown ale with some American affectations. They also offer the Jai Alai India Pale Ale, which I have had at a different restaurant in St. Petersburg. With 7.5% ABV, this beer style is native to the Basque region of Spain.

Or you can go for the gusto, having some Cerveza from España founded in 1876 and known as “the beer of Barcelona” and enjoy the selections offered by Estrella Damm such as the Lager a gold medal winner, their Inedit, or the Damm Daura which is a gluten-free beer. (Warning if you follow the link to this brewery, turn your volume down because you will get blasted by loud music). Columbia also has a large section dedicated to family wines.

The Sopas (soup) and Ensalada (salad) menu page has a Spanish Bean Soup which is part of the original recipes now over one hundred years old made with garbanzo beans, Spanish chorizo sausage, smoked ham along with chicken and pork stocks. There is also a Cuban Black Bean Soup and a nice summer style Andalucia Gazpacho with tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, and garlic. There are five salads of choice from your classical caesar, to a chopped tomato, white asparagus, and hearts of palm. The main salad on their list which you can order as a side or a larger format as an entree. 

The 1905 Salad is prepared a la motte table side at the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / 1905 Salad
The salad is prepared à la minute table-side with julienned ham, Swiss cheese, tomato, Romano cheese, olives, and a homemade garlic dressing. You can also add turkey or shrimp to the salad, and USA Today rated it as one of the top ten places to order a salad as an entree.

Twenty-Four items round out the tapas portion of the menu to include the Cuban Sandwich with the Miami twist mentioned earlier. Besides the Chorizo “Española,” Empanadas de Picadillo, Gambas “Al Ajillo,” Pollo al Ajillo, and Champiñones Rellenos to name a few of the tapas, the item that caught our eye based on the recommendation of my father-in-law was the Queso Fundido. Tetilla cheese, made from the herd of Friesians, Alpine Browns, and Rubia Gallega cows from Galicia, northwest Spain. Since 1992, it has been one of the four kinds of cheese that have received DOP recognition. It is baked in a Rioja tomato sauce until melted, then served with toasted Cuban bread points. My wife enjoyed this and the 1905 salad with a glass of the CR Generations Sauvignon Blanc from the La Mancha Wine Region of Spain. According to tasting notes it has well-balanced acidity complemented with fragrant notes and flavors of fresh asparagus passionfruit grapefruit with hints of fennel anise and slide ever so slight mineral and has great fruit citrus forward.

The queso fundido at the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / Queso Fundido
Mariscos or fish represents two pages on their menu with over twenty selections where my mother-in-law and I enjoyed our entrees from. Besides the seafood selections, they had Carnes (Meat) such as Prime New York Strips, Filet Mignon, Veal, Cuban Pork, and Ribeye to name a few. Under the Pollo (chicken) section they had six selections from Pollo “Riojana, ” Manchego, Asado, and Milanesa incorporating some Italian flavors with the Spanish for a nice extra kick. Where would a Spanish restaurant be without the Paella? Six selections on the menu to include a few vegetarian and a black bean 1905 variations.

With the Mariscos, my mother-in-law enjoyed the Camarones Rellenos “Jesse Gonzalez,” which consisted of jumbo-sized prawns stuffed with crabmeat and slowly baked with a lemon-herb butter. The dish was served with a house recipe called “Good Rice” and fresh sautéed market vegetables. My father-in-law does not drink alcohol but instead of tea, he may have enjoyed the water selection called Agua de Peñaclara, a Rioja company that has been producing this brand for 150 years, offering still and sparkling. The water comes from the heart of the Sierra de Cameros in the La Rioja area of northern Spain. The source is an artesian spring originating 1,600 feet under the Pañaseto Mountains. 

The Camarones Rellenos dish at the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / Camarones Rellenos “Jesse Gonzalez,”
With my entree, I enjoyed another wine from their family cellar called the Rusty, a Tempranillo from the Rioja Finca Valpiedra Estate. I enjoyed the Cannelloni de Langosta “7 Portes,” based on a recipe from one of the family's favorite restaurants in Barcelona called the “7 Portes,” founded in 1836. Tender cannelloni pasta filled with Maine lobster meat, shrimp, pan-seared scallops and sautéed shallots blended with a lobster sherry cream reduction was divine, then smothered with a lobster sherry mornay cheese sauce, and garnished with a few pieces of lobster. I know what you might be thinking. What the hell was I doing drinking a medium tannin cherry and plum flushed Spanish Tempranillo with a shellfish pasta? I’ll be the first to be proud to say that I don’t hold to the old or traditional customs of white wine with poultry and fish and red wines with red meats. I drink what I like to drink, and that night I was in the mood for a nice medium-bodied Spanish wine. 

The Cannelloni de Langosta or lobster pasta at the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / Cannelloni de Langosta "7 Portes"
The staff is very friendly and professional and well educated on the menu. They are able to not only have allergen identification but they can also feel comfortable to pass that information to the customer unlike Mohammed Khalique Zaman owner of the Indian Garden restaurant in North Yorkshire, the United Kingdom who killed a patron who had a nut allergy and did not inform him the dish contained, even after letting the staff know he had the allergen.

The Columbia Restaurant Groups' philanthropy is far and wide donating more than $185,000 to more than 100 local non-profit organizations throughout Florida with the 18th annual Columbia Restaurant Community Harvest.  Since the program began in 1998, the Columbia has given $1.8 million to non-profit organizations throughout Florida. 

A brief look at the wine list:

The wine list at Columbia is put together and managed by the company president, Richard Gonzmart, and one of his daughters, a 5th generation family member Andrea Gonzmart Williams. They believe the relationship of wine and food is an essential part of the dining experience and that two aspects of elegant dining deserve specialized attention: The preparation and serving of the cuisine, and the selection of the finest wines and stemware to accompany it. They have a compilation of the finest wines from Spain along with personal favorites from California. $10 is also donated from the sale of every bottle of Enzi & Rusty wine to the oncology research at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital.  A minimum of $20,000 is to be donated annually to help find a cure for the four-legged family members. The Spanish wineries on their list are all certified by the Denominació D'origen Qualificada. From California, the Don Casimiro Winery makes a label for their Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and White Zinfandel. The Napa Enzi Winery also created a label for the restaurant of the family German shepherd.  

We were all completely full and could not get dessert, however, they had a few options that looked really good to include a classic caramel egg custard flan recipe dating back to 1935 when Columbia added a second “all-time first” for Florida and that was an air conditioning dining room. They have a Guava Turnover “Carmita” which consists of tropical sweet guava and melted sweet cream cheese baked in a soft crispy pastry, dusted with sugar granules, and drizzled with vanilla bean sauce. They also have a classic Florida Key Lime Pie, which you will find in most Florida restaurants, plus five other desserts round up the menu and weekly specials.

But check out some of these wonderful selections from Wine Dine and Play: 

Please see these guidelines for Tipping in Restaurants and on following proper etiquette, customs, cultures, and avoiding assumptions when you dine out.

Wine regulatory’s for the tastings in this article:

“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is the strength, in the water there are bacteria.” - David Auerbach

European Union: 


Other noteworthy Spanish and Cuban cuisine articles and restaurants similar to Columbia Restaurant:
Spanish cuisine is heavily influenced by regional cuisines and the particular historical processes that shaped culture and society in those territories. Geography and climate had a great influence on cooking methods and available ingredients, and these particularities are still present in the gastronomy of the various regions that make up the country. Popular dishes include Paella, tapas, and Jamón Ibérico charcuterie.

Table 9 Stylish modern Spanish and global cuisine at the Hilton Dubai Creek in Deira Dubai, UAE 
Tapas 218 Cozy tavern severing traditional Spanish small plate cuisine in Canton, Ohio
Vizacaya Restaurante and Tapas Bar Vibrant spot for classic Spanish dishes and tapas in Tampa, Florida

Cuban cuisine is a blend of Native American Taino food, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Some Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. This results in a unique, interesting and flavorful blend of the several different cultural influences, with strong similarities with the cuisine of the neighboring Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Chinese influences can also be accounted for, mainly in the Havana area.

Bongos Bar and Grille Eclectic beachfront bistro, Cuban and American cuisine, in St. Pete Beach, Florida 
Tangilo’s Grille A small Cuban centric restaurant with a sidewalk patio in downtown Gulfport, Florida

See the whole list by visiting “The Wine Dine and Play Article Glossary

Other Sarasota restaurants and articles on Wine Dine and Play:

Relaxed Tuscan-inspired Italian chain eatery
Sarasota, Florida, USA
Nautically themed eatery with crafted cocktails and raw bar
Sarasota, Florida, USA
Steakhouse restaurant on inlet offering Gulf views
Sarasota, Florida, USA

A Few Florida Favorites:

Rustic New American Fare
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA
 A top 20 on Wine, Dine, and Play
Old-world classic Italian & Mediterranean
New Smyrna Beach, Florida, USA
Native American Cuisine w/Barbacoa Grilling
Tampa, Florida, USA

See the whole list by visiting “The Wine Dine and Play Article Glossary by country

Final notes, review basics, observations, and more pictures:

Most reviews are subjective, depending on the writer; but they should also be responsible, and respectfully written, upholding the truth, and accurately conveying the experience to the best of the writer's knowledge, even if it includes metaphors the restaurant may not like to read about. My ratings are by the stars I award (from 0 to 5). The rating is calculated on a point accumulation of six separate factors based on individual experience. They include wine and other beverage selections, plate presentation, customer service, restaurant or café ambience, food quality, and wow factor. 
To see more details of this rating list, read this article:

Overall from this experience, and the score factors outlined in the ‘about page’ section, based on my individual experience and rating, I give Columbia Restaurant a 3 out of 5 stars, meaning that they exceeded my expectations and were far above the average dining experience of most restaurants.

Scores are detailed in the chart below

Formula Factor Conclusions and Overall Ratings for Columbia Restaurant, Sarasota
Max Points Possible:
Total Points Awarded:
Total Points deducted:
Food quality
Plate presentation
Customer service
Alcohol and other beverages
Total regular points awarded
Total percentage Before Bonus


“Wow” factor BONUS
Total bonus percentage


Total percentage with a bonus for the final star rating


Stars Awarded (see chart below)
             0 - 5

**A full break down and explanation of the observations and point disbursement is available in the linked article above. To receive a detailed copy of your score, feel free to contact me at any time and I will provide it to you.**


Overall Star Rating:
3 of 5 Stars: 
84% Rating with a 2 point “wow” bonus
An Extraordinary Dining Experience
Wine List:
Columbia Restaurant Wine rating:
6 of 10
Old World selections: 

New World selections: 
California, Chile, Argentina, Washington State, Oregon, Australia, 
Andrea Gonzmart Williams
Corkage fees:
Columbia Restaurant does not list any corkage fee’s however, most American restaurants charge $25.00 per bottle
Casual dining
Cuisine Style at Columbia Restaurant:
Cuban, Spanish
Allergen or dietary accommodations: 
Farm to Fork, Gluten-Free, Local, Low Carb, Pescatarian, Sustainable, Vegan Options, Vegetarian
Not Required, But Recommended
Accepted, but not guaranteed
Dress code:
casual attire, Casual or Conservative attire
Special note: This is Florida - everybody wears flip-flops
Child policy:

The Restaurants reviewed on this site may have a kids menu or cater to them; however, for full enjoyment of food and wine, it is recommended that kids not to be in attendance, unless they have been trained in proper etiquette. 
If not then:
Hire a Babysitter! 
Columbia Restaurant Experiences:
Place for foodies, Contemporary, Modern, Trendy, Lounge, Business parties, Romantic, Hot spot, Great bar, Great outdoor dining, Good for special occasions, Beautiful décor, Rustic, Tourist grabber, and a neighborhood gem.
Cash, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express
Street meter parking
The restaurants reviewed on this site may have Wi-Fi, but do not require you to go online, because the excitement of the food and wine alone will keep you too entertained instead of checking your social media and emails.
Noise level:
Medium to Loud
Columbia Restaurant is a non-smoking restaurant
Patio or terrace:

Food Prices 
(excludes, alcohol, taxes & 20% gratuity’s)

$£€¥ -                Under 50.00 (inexpensive)
$£€¥ x 2 -          51.00- 99.00 (moderate)
$£€¥ x 3 -          Over 100.00 (pricy)
$£€¥ x 4 -          Over 200.00 (expensive)
$£€¥ x 5 -          Over 400.00 (very expensive)

**Currencies reflect the world’s major travelers, restaurant, or wine connoisseur’s**

United States Dollar (USD)
Great Britain Pound Sterling (GBP)
Canadian Dollar (CAN)
Chinese Yuan (CNY)  
European Union (EUR)

 Alcohol prices:

$35.00 USD

Columbia Restaurant:

411 St Armands Circle
Sarasota, Florida

Contact Information: 

Restaurant website:
Maître d or host:
+1 941 388 3987
Online reservations
Email Us:
Serving hours:
Eastern Standard Time
(GMT, Zulu, or UTC - 5:00)

Sun - Thur
11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Fri - Sat
11:00 am - 11:00 pm 

Social Media 
Accolades for Columbia Restaurant:
Columbia Restaurant Facebook Link                

The world’s best restaurants is a subjective list of who is writing it and changes on a regular basis. The Wine Dine and Play best experiences are based on my highest rated stared restaurants, meaning that the visit was an outstanding or extraordinary experience. From cafés, chains, mom + pops, hole in the walls, to fine dining including a few Michelin spots. Visit the Top 100 page to see the entire list.

A few to tease you with…
Farm-to-Table Southern bites spot 
Sandy Springs, Georgia, USA
Fine-dining waterfront spot for grilled fish and steaks
Indian Shores, Florida, USA
Native American Cuisine w/Barbacoa Grilling
Tampa, Florida, USA

Other Columbia Restaurant Pictures:

The entrance to Columbia restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / Entrance

The famed 1905 Salad with shrimp at the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / 1905 Salad with Shrimp

Merchandise from salsa to salad dressings at the Columbia Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida
Columbia Restaurant / Items For Sale

“Culinary perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, 
But in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
-Angelique Arnauld (1591-1661)

Who is John Galt?


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