1 Between our morning and evening appearances on the Home Shopping Network, we took a drive to historic Ybor City. This is Columbia Restaurant, the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
2 In the late 1800's, Ybor City was becoming home to Cuban immigrants. Among the group was Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., who opened a corner café, frequented by Cuban cigar workers.
3 Today, the restaurant has grown to encompasses an entire block.
4 The Columbia has a lavish décor, including hundreds of hand-painted tiles depicting various scenes from Don Quixote.
5 Historic Ybor City has a 'Walk of Fame' Paver Program, where one can have a special message engraved in a hexagonal sidewalk paver, with proceeds going to the Ybor City Development Corp.
6 The intersection of 7th Ave. and 22nd St. was a sandy cross-road connecting three army encampments in the Ybor City area during the Spanish-American War. At this cross-road was lacated a water trough where the Rough Riders watered their mounts. Col. Teddy Roosevelt frequently rode by here on his horse, Texas.
7 The Krewe of the Knights of Sant' Yago is dedicated to the preservation of Latin traditions in Tampa. The Columbia Restaurant is Krewe headquarters and many of its functions are held here.
8 And another plaque states that the Lions Club of Ybor City was organized on April 19, 1951 at the Columbia Restaruant - Meetings each Thursday at 12:15 noon
9 The total number of dining rooms at the Columbia Restaurant is fifteen, making it a popular venue for private events. This is the Red Room dining room.
10 The Don Quixote dining room, as it looks today - This elegant dining room was built in 1935 and was the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa, complete with an elevated dance floor.
11 My lunch companions - Alex Perruzzi, VP Merchandising and Daisy Schwartzberg, my makeup artist
12 Having a good time
13 The ropa vieja was delicious - Originally introduced to Cuba by Spanish sailors, the name means 'old clothes' because the beef is shredded, sautéed, and simmered with onions, green peppers, and tomatoes. It's served with platanos and white rice.
14 A beautiful fresh salad of diced beefsteak tomatoes, tossed with julienne sweet onion, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, and garlic
15 The original Cuban sandwich - The 'Mixto,' as it was known in the beginning, was created in the 1890's for the cigar workers as they walked to and from work. Different cultures blended the ingredients - the standards are ham, Genoa salami, Mojo marinated roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard between freshly baked Cuban bread.
16 After lunch, we walked a few doors down to the Columbia Restaurant Gift Store.
17 Inside the gift shop is a little cigar factory, where one can watch professional cigar rollers demonstrate their trade. Ybor City was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Spain, Cuba, and Italy.
18 Its factories would roll millions of cigars each year. This gentleman is in the process of applying the paper bands to finished cigars.
19 Of course, one can also purchase these highly sought after hand-rolled cigars.
20 These are traditional cigar molds which contain bunched filler leaves. They are pressed to give them the proper shape before a wrapper leaf is rolled around.
21 You can also buy the famous Columbia Restaurant Cuban roast coffee, created in-house using Colombian and Central American coffee beans, giving it a rich full-bodied flavor.
22 There's a lovely assortment of handmade and handpainted ceramic pieces made in Spain.
23 And cookies and confections