The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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Remembering Ybor City Restuarant Las Novedades [What About These Prices!]
Posted Jul 16, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Jul 16, 2012 at 02:56 PM
The great thing about Tampa’s restaurant history is that it’s all so… recent.
That’s not a slam. I’m constantly amazed that families who were integral in creating the city’s legendary restaurants are still around to talk - as are their customers.
The other day, I got a reminder from reader Fannie Zamore about how close it is.
Fannie e-mailed me a copy of a menu from Las Novedades restaurant, one of Ybor City’s most cherished Spanish restaurants.
For those who don’t know, Las Novedades was located on the corner of 15th Street and Seventh Avenue in Ybor and featured a spectacular main dining room which resembled an outdoor courtyard. To get there, customers walked through massive red doors, past red velvet walls, beneath wrought iron chandeliers and past huge oil paintings.
“Every table was set as though the Holy Roman emperor was going to pop in for lunch,” former Tampa Tribune food writer Mary D. Scourtes wrote in 1990.
Owned by Manuel and Clarita Garcia, it was considered a rival to it’s competitor at the other end of Seventh Avenue, the Spanish-themed Columbia Restaurant. In 1955, a little-known Cuban tourist recently released from prison named Fidel Castro ate at Las Novedades.
In 1970, it was sold to Columbia owner Cesar Gonzmart and businessman Jim Walter. Las Novedades reportedly was part of an elaborate plan to attract tourists with a walled city that included a bloodless bullfighting attraction, according to historian Leland Hawes. The project didn’t exactly materialize.
Anyway, Fannie sent me a copy of a menu that she said had to have come from the late 1930s to early 1940s.
Las Novedades and the Columbia were the fancier restaurants, especially The Columbia
What about these prices! On the back my father had written the names of his fellow veterans of World War I, Wildcat Division that were there. They used to get together for a Reunion Dinner on Armistice Eve.
My father (Albert Rosenberg) was in WWI in the Wildcat Division of the Infantry. When the men in Tampa were drafted, they went in together. I don’t know how many years after the war that they started having reunions on Armistice Eve at local restaurants. This time it was at Las Novedades.
My husband tells the story that after his discharge from service, he came to Tampa 1946. He went to Cohalla’s Restaurant on Nebraska Avenue near 7th Avenue. (At least that is what he remembers.) He didn’t
speak any Spanish, but the waiter understood that he wanted a steak.
When he was brought soup, he was surprised. Then he was brought pompano in the paper bag (papillot), he protested that he did not order fish. The waiter told him that it was part of his meal and the steak was coming -
and indeed it did come. He thinks there was also salad and a potato.
All of that for about $1.
It’s too bad Las Novedades no longer operates. (You can still cook some of their recipes, however. Clarita Garcia’s cookbook “Clarita’s Cocina” - which became a famous staple of Spanish cooking beyond Tampa’s borders - can still be found on Amazon and eBay.
You can still enjoy prices from those early days, however. Each year, The Columbia hosts its “1905 Day” honoring the year of its founding. A tradition since the restaurant’s 75th anniversary, the Columbia promotes a special menu with prices discounted to what they were in decades past..
This year, 1905 Day is Sept. 16. Menu items will include:
• Chicken & Yellow Rice “Ybor” - $2.95
• Boliche (eye round of beef) - $2.95
• Merluza “Russian Style” - $2.95
• Columbia’s Original “1905 Salad” - $1.95
• Black Bean or Cuban Black Bean Soup: cup – .50 cents or bowl .75 cents
• Sangria: glass - $.95 cents or pitcher - $4.95
• Flan - $.50 cents
• Richly brewed American coffee - $.05 cents
No reservations will be accepted. And no take-out orders will be taken from noon to 7 p.m.