The Colonnade - Tampa, Florida
|Dining Room 2|
|Dining Room 1|
The Colonnade has been a Tampa fixture for about 75 years.
When it opened in 1935 it was a drive-up hamburger restaurant and it quickly
became a popular hangout for the local teenagers. One of those teenagers back
then was Gilbert Jones, my lunch companion for this visit to the Colonnade.
Gilbert also happens to be the uncle to my wife, Janis. Gil would give me some
rare insights to the Colonnade and how it has changed over the years. Once a
teenager hangout serving burgers, a tiny
place with only four stools, it is now an upscale dine-in restaurant that is
well known for its fresh-fish dishes.
|View Of Tampa Skyline|
I suppose a word about how I happened to be at the Colonnade
that day would be in order. Uncle Gil and Aunt Effie live in Lake Seminole
Square, a retirement condominium complex. The square has staff members who are
charged with finding interesting things for the residents to do, to fill their
time. One such excursion was a harbor cruise to see the inner working of the
Port of Tampa. Unfortunately, Aunt Effie was unable to make it for the outing
and they graciously offered the available seat to me. You can see more about
the cruise portion of the excursion at http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/bug-smasher/
. After the cruise lunch was scheduled at the Colonnade.
After the harbor cruise, bus driver Lou and tour director
Ron Rotondo did a nose count. Everyone was accounted for. It was short drive
from the waterfront to the Colonnade. I’m not really sure how he did it but Lou
was able to bring that bus right up to the entrance to let us off and then make
the turn back to the parking lot. It would have been a tight squeeze for a
The restaurant sits on a grassy expanse on Bayshore Blvd.
Known for its fish, the restaurant is also known for the view across the
boulevard and the bay at the Tampa skyline. Last remodeled in 1974, the
restaurant has a retro look; a bit worn but well maintained, a comfortable
place to be. The décor is no longer drive-in but now sports a pier-side motif. Comfortable
booths line the periphery and tables and chairs occupy the center of the dining
room. Stained glass partitions break up the dining area and help to keep the
ambient noise low.
I am always amazed at how a restaurant can absorb a surge of
patrons and carry on business-as-usual especially when the full menu is
available. Our group of about thirty was
quickly seated, beverage orders taken while we perused the menu. Uncle Gil and
I were seated in a booth. Bus driver Lou and tour guide Ron asked to join us.
They were welcome company for the meal and added much to the pleasant conversation.
|Hamburger and Beer Batter Fries|
Uncle Gil ordered a cheeseburger just for old time’s sake. (Hamburger or Cheeseburger. Charbroiled and
topped how you like. Served on a toasted roll. $7.99 All sandwiches served with
your choice of steak fries or coleslaw.) The meat patty was about 1/3
pound, nicely grilled with prominent grill marks, looked cooked adequately but
still juicy, not dried out. The bread was not the traditional hamburger bun.
The squared sides suggest they are baked in house on a baking sheet. The
lettuce, onion, tomato and cheese were as requested. The side-order of fries
was a house specialty; beer batter fries. In presentation they looked very
good. I sampled a couple of Gil’s fries. They are not bad at all but certainly
different and I would suspect more of an acquired taste. If I had ordered fries
with my meal I would have had no trouble eating them. However, if I were
offered a choice of the beer batter fries and conventional fries, I would have
chosen the conventional fries, a taste and texture to which I am more accustomed.
Gil said his hamburger was excellent. I do believe I detected a note of
nostalgia as he remembered back to the first hamburger he ate here those many
|Coleslaw and Mini-muffins|
I chose the Combination Platter where you get to choose from
a selection of crab cake, various shrimp dishes, tilapia, scallops or chicken
breast. (Create Your Own Platter. Choose
from any two items from the selection below…
$15.99 Served with potato or
vegetable, tossed salad or coleslaw and hot muffins.) My particular
selection was fried bay scallops and breaded and fried chicken breast. As I write this I realize that the beer
batter fries, part of my order, were never brought to the table.
The coleslaw was a nice serving of salad with a just right
amount of creamy dressing over crisp and fresh cabbage (mostly green but with
some shreds of purple cabbage and carrots for color and texture). Very good.
The miniature muffins are another of the trademark offerings from The
Colonnade. They are tasty little morsels served with firm, wrapped butter
cubes. The small size makes unwrapping the muffins difficult often destroying
the muffin the process. I have mixed feeling about them; they taste good but
are a pain to eat.
|Fried Scallops and Fried Chicken Platter|
The main course, the scallops and chicken, filled the plate
which is probably why I never missed the fries. Portion cups of a creamy tartar
sauce and cocktail sauce accompanied the meal. The scallops were the small size
that is most often served. It was a large serving, three dozen at least. There
were a couple of bits and dribbles of breading but most all was quality
scallops. The breading was golden brown and fried crisp. The scallop inside was
cooked through but still firm, not overcooked and mushy. The cooks in the back
have the oil temperature and the cooking time down to a science. The flavor of
the scallops was just as I would expect. I tried a bit of the tartar sauce, a
bit of the cocktail sauce. It was hard to decide which I liked best but the
cocktail sauce won out in the end.
The chicken was battered and deep fried. Again, the coating was
crispy, the chicken inside cooked through, not overcooked, tender and still
moist. Here, a thicker piece of meat, cooked to a different internal
temperature than the scallops but yet done just right. Excellent flavor and not
cross flavors from other fried foods. The chicken and scallops were a good
combination. Both are mild flavors that tended to complement one another and
not clash. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal, large enough that I really didn’t
miss the beer batter fries at all.
As I noted before I am in awe of a restaurant that can
absorb so many customers sat once, offer a full menu and still serve them all
in a reasonable time. The last to be served in our group didn’t have an
excessive wait. The first served had a short wait until the last served were
paid and ready to resume the bus tour. Our servers were old pros and kept the
food coming and the drink glasses filled. The servers did a good job.
|Gratuity Automatically Added|
Curiosities of note: the restaurant adds an 18% gratuity to
the bill automatically. And, as a contrast, the restaurant has developed a more
upscale reputation from the burger drive-in days. It is in a very upscale
neighborhood with an exquisite view and locally famous for its seafood. And yet
the tartar and cocktail sauce is served in the Dixie® portion cups, a bit down
scale, perhaps a throwback to the burger and fries in a basket days of the 1940’s.
I enjoyed the time I spent with Uncle Gil. I got to see a
part of Tampa that would have ordinarily been hidden and I got to try another new
and novel place to eat. Being that Uncle Gil remembers it form so many years
ago it added a whole new dimension to the dining experience. It is unfortunate
that Aunt Effie was unable to participate. Her misfortune was my boon for it
truly an ill wind that blows no one good. I also enjoyed and appreciate the
efforts of the condominium community staff members that work very hard providing
entertaining activities and safe transportation for the residents; certainly an
eye opener for future consideration.
|A Pleasant Oasis Along Bayshore Drive|
Now that I have peaked your curiosity about the fine foods offered
by The Colonnade, here is a curiosity for you to unravel. It seems that, as the
story goes, back in the good ole days, they plunked an olive into each glass of
Coca Cola® they served. Why is lost in history but rumor is that if you ask you
can get an olive in your Coca Cola® too on request. Let me know what you find
out, if the story is true.
Labels: Bay, beer batter, Colonnade, fish, Florida, fries, hamburger, olive, scallops, Tampa