By Gary Nager
While we have quite a few very good Latin restaurants in the New Tampa/Wesley Chapel area, there’s no restaurant in our area serving authentic Colombian cuisine, which is among my favorite Latin food.
So, when I just happened to be on N. 56th St. in Temple Terrace recently, I strolled into a fairly new-looking restaurant called La Pollera Colorada, which had a sign in front saying it featured “Authentic Colombian Cuisine.”
Once inside, I sat down with owner Carlos Villegas, a native of Medellin, Colombia, who moved to New York City 29 years ago, where he worked in a variety of restaurants for many years and learned a lot about many different types of food.
“I mostly worked for French and Italian restaurants,” Carlos says, flashing his winning smile. “And I started incorporating some of those same flavors into my own cooking.”
He eventually opened and later sold his first La Pollera Colorada (a “pollera” is the traditional dress worn by flamenco dancers and during Latin festivals and “colorada” means “colorful”) in Sunnyside, Queens, before moving to Tampa, where he opened his first La Pollera Colorada in Florida on Linebaugh Ave. at Armenia Ave.
“It was successful for nine years, but the problem there was that there were several Colombian restaurants in the same area,” says Carlos. “So, I decided to try a different location.”
He opened La Pollera Colorada II on Highland Ave. at U.S. 19 in Clearwater. Carlos still owns and operates that restaurant, too, but he decided that other parts of Tampa would probably also enjoy his Italian-and-French-influenced Colombian cooking and he found his current location on N. 56th St.., in a small plaza located just south of Busch Blvd. La Pollera Colorada is open every day at 9 a.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It stays open until 9 on weekdays and Sundays and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
For breakfast, La Pollera lunch and dinner menus offer everything from an American breakfast with eggs in any style, sausage and bread to a traditional arepa casserole, with eggs, corn cake and cheese.
La Pollera’s lunch and dinner menu is extensive, with a particularly sizable number of fresh fish and seafood dishes, as well as an equally huge selection of “Platos Tipicos,” or traditional Colombian meals.
My favorite appetizer to date is the fried pork rind, which is served with an arepa, or corn cake and home fries, although I also love to order the pork rind as a side dish. But, don’t think of those disgusting fried pork rinds in a greasy bag. Colombian pork rind is basically the portion of the pig that attaches to the baby back ribs so many Americans love. The rind contains several delicious small bites of tasty, crispy but tender pork of which I can’t seem to get enough.
Other appetizers on the menu include fried calamari, a fried spanish sausage (also with an arepa and home fries), a traditional shrimp cocktail and a Spanish-style shrimp in olive oil and garlic, none of which I’ve sampled yet.
For lunch, Carlos offers a variety of different-each-day specials for just $7.45, all of which are served with rice and red beans or French fries, with a soft drink and dessert. There are two lunch specials each day, including chicken in mushroom sauce or grilled pork chops on Mondays or your choice of fried trout or La Pollera’s popular fried, breaded chicken, which is pounded thin but is still juicy and delicious inside (and my favorite lunch to date), on Thursdays.
Speaking of chicken, La Pollera Colorada also offers fresh rotisserie chicken meal combos, which are all served with rice and beans and sweet plantains. One whole chicken, which can serve 3-4 people, costs just $14.95 and three whole chickens (for 9-10 people) is just $41.95. You can even get a quarter rotisserie chicken with rice and beans for lunch every day for just $4.99.
Although I can’t eat shrimp, La Pollera’s seafood menu includes plenty of it, but my favorite seafood dish to date is the flounder (or grouper) filet “Francaise style,” in a savory lemon, butter and cilantro sauce. There’s also a variety of salmon dishes, whole fried snapper and even mixed seafood offerings with lobster tails, clams, shrimp, mussels and more. And yes, Carlos does have Spanish paella on the menu, served with or without lobster. He promises you will not be disappointed with the paella.
As for his country’s traditional dishes, you simply have to try the different dishes which include the top round or skirt steak. My favorite to date is the Bistec Encebollado, which is a tender top round steak cooked in onions with rice, beans and sweet plantains. Some of the Colombian meals also include pork rind, sausage, fried eggs and arepas. Carlos also suggests trying his sizzling Churrasco NY al Guacamole, which is a huge NY strip on a sizzling fajita dish served with a fresh guacamole sauce. A customer who ordered this dish raved about it, so it’s likely next on the list for me to sample.
If you’d like to enjoy a drink with your meal, not only does La Pollera carry delicious Aguila beer from Colombia, but also what Carlos calls the “best homemade sangria in town.” And, adults of legal drinking age who mention Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News when they visit can receive a free small pitcher of sangria.
If you’re avoiding alcohol, there is also a variety of natural fruit shakes, from papaya and mango to passion fruit, blackberry and more. There’s also Colombian and other Latin sodas and delicious (of course) Colombian coffee. For dessert, try a Colombian-style flan or figs with cheese.
For more information, visit La Pollera Colorada (8904 N. 56th St., Temple Terrace), or at LaPolleraColoradaTampa.com, or call 988-3030. Catering is available, too. For the Clearwater location (1226 S. Highland Ave.), call (727) 210-1908.
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