Seafood Lover’s Florida by Bruce Hunt, from Globe Pequot Press, is right on schedule to be released this October. We’re in the editing phase right now, and that means last minute adjustments. Sadly, this week, one of those adjustments is to remove my entry for The Colonnade Restaurant in Tampa. Earlier this week, after eighty years of continuous service, The Colonnade closed its doors. Reportedly the location will become a high-rise condominium. The Colonnade has been on Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa and owned by the same family, the Whitesides, since 1935. I’ve been eating there since early childhood, and my parents used to hang out at The Colonnade when they were in high school (in the 1940’s), when it was a drive-in.
This description and these photos won’t be in the book, but a good friend suggested I post them here in the blog. So here it is, and please bear in mind that I wrote this nine months ago, before anyone knew they were closing.
Excerpted (and now deleted) from Seafood Lover’s Florida:
My earliest memories of the Colonnade are from the 1960’s. It was always a treat when my mother would take us to what was then a drive-in restaurant. We could order from the car, and car hops would bring our food and drinks out on a tray that they anchored on the car windowsill. Best of all, we could eat in the car. I know. Nothing special about that now, but back then it was a novelty. This place held memories for my mother and father too. Back in the late 1940’s, when they were in Plant High School, this was one of the two popular South Tampa high-school hangouts for teenagers. It was a burger-and-fried-seafood-basket place then, and still was in the 1960’s. I always ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke, which inexplicably always came with an olive in the bottom of the glass. They also served baskets of fried chicken, fried fish, and fried shrimp.
Mamie Whiteside opened The Colonnade in 1935, overlooking old Tampa Bay on Tampa’s iconic Bayshore Boulevard. Mamie had help from her two sons, Richard and Jack, Plant High School students, which might account for its original popularity with the teenage crowd, although it was not a drive-in then (that came later with a 1955 remodel).
Another remodel came in 1974, and this one was a bit controversial. The new Colonnade was larger, more upscale, and to the dismay of many, they eliminated the drive-in. But the menu expanded. Before long they became known for their fresh seafood dishes, and ultimately became more popular than ever.
Today The Colonnade is a Tampa institution, as iconic as the scenic Bayshore Boulevard that it fronts. The menu always includes an assortment of the day’s fresh catch, usually grouper, snapper, or mahi, and sometimes something more exotic like swordfish. My personal Colonnade-craving comes from a little item that accompanies every meal: a basket of bite-sized blueberry and cornbread muffins. On my last visit I had a platter of Fried Grouper Cheeks. Grouper cheeks are a Florida delicacy. It’s the tender meat from in front of the gills and below the eyes. There are some notable standard menu items as well, like Wild Florida Gator, breaded and fried; or if you want, you can (could) still get a burger.