Columbia Restaurant's Snapper Adelita and Pollo Relleno "Lele''
Anyone who knows anything about the Columbia Restaurant knows it's a family affair with deep roots. A big part of the history is Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, who ran the restaurant with her husband, Cesar, for many years.
She died in 2001 but remains a strong presence throughout the Columbia, including the menu, where two dishes bear her name.
Snapper "Adelita'' was created in honor of the restaurant's 100th anniversary in 2005. Her son, Richard, who runs the restaurant with his older brother, Casey, remembered how as children they always had to eat fish on Fridays and he never liked it. His mom tried different recipes and finally found one he liked: grilled snapper with hearts of palm, artichokes and sundried tomatoes. To this day, it's the only fish dish he'll order.
The other entree is Pollo Relleno "Lele,'' named after the nickname Adela's grandchildren gave her. She used to make artichokes stuffed with ham, chorizo, bread crumbs, parsley and shallots. The grandkids loved them.
Four years ago, Richard substituted the artichoke for a chicken breast and made it an entree. Based on kitchen orders, customers love it, too.
At Mom's Place (4816 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa), the mom in charge greets customers by name, cooks the daily specials and calls everyone "my love.'' A sign on the wall spells out her attitude: "Mom makes it, you eat. That's the deal.''
Katrina Berdos is the mom behind Mom's Place, just up the road from Steinbrenner Field. She and her husband, Peter, took over the diner 15 years ago from an aunt and uncle who opened Mom's Place in 1959. She's been the head mom ever since.
People flock to Mom's Place for its hearty, freshly made food, including spinach pie, gyros, lamb shanks, roast chicken and soups. Late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was a regular, as were plenty of New York fans in town for spring training.
Berdos has two children but counts as family all her loyal customers. She proudly posts photos of people's kids and grandkids on the wall.
Picky punctuators will notice that Mamas Kitchen (5525 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa) has no apostrophe. That's no mistake. The South Tampa restaurant actually has no connection to moms. Rather, the namesake was inspired by Saint Mamas, from the Mediterranean isle of Cyprus.
Regulars know to pronounce it ma-MAHS, named after Mamas Antoniou, who founded the restaurant in 1995. His mother named him after the saint.
The diner serves classic hoagies, salads and breakfast all day. On the menu is the story of Saint Mamas and how he tamed a lion, the restaurant's mascot, and freed a poor hermit who refused to pay his taxes.
Mamas Kitchen has two other locations — 5885 Seminole Blvd. and 9312 N Florida Ave. — but they are independently owned. Mamas' nephew, George Antoniou, who works at the South Tampa restaurant, said people routinely call it mama's and they don't dispute it. When a sign was installed with an apostrophe, they just covered it with a sticker.
Mom's crab cakes at the Hurricane
People come to the Hurricane (807 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach) mostly for two reasons: the gorgeous sunsets and Mom's crab cakes.
Mary Reitano Falkenstein brought the recipe from Baltimore when her family moved to Florida and opened the Hurricane in 1977. It has three kinds of crab meat, Old Bay Spice and "family secrets'' dating to 1945. Topped with homemade mustard sauce, it's served as an appetizer and entree and as stuffing for grouper and salmon dishes.
Falkenstein's son, Rick, one of the Hurricane's managers, calls the crab cakes the closest you can get to a Maryland crab cake. The proof is in the numbers. Depending on the time of year, the restaurant sells 400 to 800 crab cakes a week, he said.