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Take just one meal at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa’s historic Ybor City and you’ll know why it still thrives in its fourth generation—a distinction that only three percent of family-owned businesses can claim.

Established in 1905 as a café and bar by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the Columbia is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the United States.

Now a sprawling space that covers an entire city block, the original one-room restaurant has expanded numerous times, embellishing on its Spanish ambiance with each expansion.

The current owners, direct descendants of Casimiro Hernandez, are passionate about preserving the building’s place on the National Historic Register and retain a conservationist to care for it.

I added the Columbia to my bucket list last year based on a recommendation from a friend who grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida.

When I went for lunch a couple of weeks ago, I was seated under a dazzling chandelier in the Don Quixote dining room, built in 1935 and adorned with a Quixote-themed art collection started in the 1930s by the son of the founding owner.

In my direct line of sight was an adjacent courtyard where the focal point was an Italian-built replica of Love and the Dolphin, a sculpture found in the ruins of Pompeii.

If you go in the evening, you’ll see dancers perform a 45-minute show of the Flamenco. At lunchtime the place was packed with business diners, but my waitress arrived quickly to welcome me.

The camera on my shoulder and the fascination on my face prompted Constance to give a quick oral history of the place and an offer for a tour after lunch. I imagined myself the recipient of special press treatment, but it turns out that anyone who shows an interest can get a guided tour delivered by tall, elegant Cesar, the great grandson of the founding owner. I wish I could remember all the things he described as we walked the restaurant, but I was too gob-smacked by the 300-year-old stained glass, Cuban onyx stairs, priceless art and colorful Spanish tile.

As soon as I took my first bite, I understood a point of family pride: in their 112-year history, they have never advertised to attract business.

I had piping hot Cuban bread with grilled red snapper served over yellow rice and topped with hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and onions, a dish that’s aptly named Adelita, which translates “of the nobility” or in this case, fit for a king.

If you want to try a close facsimile, download this recipe, Crystal’s Fish Adelita a la Columbia. This post goes out in memory and celebration of my friend Wyndy Greene Smelser, a St. Pete girl and one of the great inspirations of my life and so many others.

After spending a month in Florida, I can honestly say I never tire of fish. It’s quick, it’s delicious and it’s healthy. I’m in search of great fish recipes. Won’t you share yours in a comment?

Life is short. Enjoy the good stuff.