That Food Guy
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
  The Colonnade - Tampa, Florida

The Colonnade

33401 Bayshore Dr Tampa FL 33629

(813) 839-7558
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 . 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 full-sized automobile.

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 years ago.

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.

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