Arroz Con Pollo & Las Novedades
This Ybor City restaurant attracted a presidential guest
Arroz con pollo has a long history dating back to the 700s when the Moors invaded Spain. One of the dishes the Moors brought over, arroz con pollo became a hit in Spain where it was adopted as a Spanish dish. Similar to paella, arroz con pollo consists of chicken and rice which has been seasoned and mixed with spices and vegetables. Each Latin American country now has its own version, varying in vegetables and seasonings used.
The earliest restaurant in Ybor City to feature arroz con pollo on its menu was Las Novedades. A favorite restaurant of the cigar workers, Las Novedades was also frequented by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. When they arrived in Tampa, the first thing they did was ride over to Las
Novedades on horseback and order arroz con pollo, an event titled by Ybor City residents as The
Charge of the Yellow Rice Brigade.
Serving the Rough Riders was not Las Novedades’s only claim to fame. It was also Tampa’s first restaurant. Opened in 1890 by Manuel Menedez, Las Novedades was located where Hotel Haya currently stands, on 7th Ave. across the street from the Sanchez y Haya Cigar Factory. The restaurant was destroyed by a fire in 1891 and reopened in 1892. By 1910, Manuel was managing the restaurant with two partners, Angel Ramon and Baldomero Diaz.
Records show that Menendez operated the restaurant on and off until he sold it to Manuel Garcia in 1939. Manuel Garcia was a Spanish immigrant who came to Florida in 1903. In 1908, he opened the sandwich shop, La Fonda, which combined with Columbia in 1918. Garcia sold his part of the company in 1939 and bought a struggling Las Novedades in 1939. In 1946, the restaurant moved to a new location on the corner of 7th Ave and 15th Street. After moving, Garcia spared no expense remodeling Las Novedades, taking inspiration from Moorish architecture.
Las Novedades was sold by the Garcia family in 1970 to Cesar Gonzmart from the Columbia, And James M. Walter. The restaurant was to be managed by Casey Gonzmart but closed after two years selling it to Longchamps of New York.
One prominent figure to come from Las Novedades was Clarita Garcia, daughter-in-law to Manuel Garcia. Garcia was born and educated in Spain. Before she married Manuel Garcia Jr., her mother instilled a love of cooking in her. Her mother was a perfectionist and taught Clarita most of what she learned. From the importance of caring for utensils to picking the right ingredients, her mother prepared her to own a successful Tampa restaurant. During her life, she wrote two cookbooks, with the most notable being Clarita's Cocina (1960) featuring Spanish recipes, including arroz con pollo as prepared by Las Novedades. She was arguably the first celebrity chef in Florida, hosting a cooking show on WTVT, and brought Spanish cooking to many.