u-le-le (pronounced You-lay-lee) – Native-Inspired Foods & Spirits Tampa Bay
I’m not a native Floridian but I am quickly becoming aware of the cities rich history. Ulele is one of the Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. by Open Table and quickly becoming “the” place to eat out in Tampa. Ulele is located in Tampa Heights on the Tampa Riverwalk in the old Water Works building. The building was the original pump house in 1903 and served the city of Tampa water from the Ulele Spring on the property. The building has served many purposes in Tampa’s history and the owners of Ulele have done an amazing job restoring the building.
Ulele gets its name from a Native American Princess of the Tocobaga Tribe from the 1500’s. The stories say that the Tocobagan’s captured three Spaniards and Princess Ulele saved one of them. Their tale is very similar to that of John Smith and Pocahontas. The owners commissioned an artist to create a statue of Princess Ulele that will be outside in the courtyard soon. Here’s a sneak peek for you, I hear it’s going to be pretty amazing once she’s in place.
Inside the iconic front doors, that was commissioned by Rustic Steel Creations of Tampa, you’ll find that the owners have a passion for art. There are statues, paintings and relics found in every nook and cranny of the restaurant. The exposed brick walls were left in a rustic state to accentuate how old the building really is. Be sure to check out the large stained glass windows and the statue of the large horse when you’re there.
The windows in the main dining area look out over Tampa’s Riverfront area; there are no bad seats in the restaurant!
Even the wine cooler displays bottles of wine artistically as you walk through the front doors to the hostess stand.
One of my favorite views was right outside of the bar area where the stained glass panels hang above the kitchen doors and the antique bottle lamps hang over the table. You can even see the painted remnants on the wall from the original Water Works building.
I could really talk all day about the artwork and historic preservation of the building…but you really want to know about the food, don’t you!?!?
We started the evening with some of their favorite appetizers. I’m craving another serving of their chargrilled oysters with garlic butter and cheeses sprinkled on top. Even if you’re not a big oyster fan, I would recommend giving these a try!
Squash Gratin side dish was a savory follow-up to the oysters. Pay attention to the wooden tabletops in my pictures. The wood for the tabletops in Ulele were from a 100 year old barn in North Florida. The wood was salvaged and refinished into the tables used in the restaurant.
All of the beef cooked at Ulele is locally sourced from Strickland Ranch. The filet was paired with their white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus (cooked perfectly, not tough). Yes, the mashed potatoes had real popcorn garnished on top. We were able to taste several of their different dishes including the Florida Pompano and the Kilo Porterhouse. The menu is subject to change seasonally as different vegetables are in season. Be sure to save room for dessert.
While I recommend their homemade coconut ice cream, you really have to get the candied duck bacon maple fried ice cream! Yes…duck…bacon! It’s bacon from the breast of a duck and it’s delicious!! It’s topped with a drizzle of caramel and a sweet potato waffle crisp.
That my friends is the inside of the Ulele Springs Brewery located right next door to Ulele. All of the beer is handcrafted on-site from grain to glass, meaning they don’t bottle and sell their beer in any store. You can only get Ulele Springs beers from the tap inside of Ulele. Timothy Shackton, the head brewmaster at Ulele, took us on a tour of the brewery and told us all about the beer making process. His passion for brewing was evident through his personality and presentation during the tour. I would highly recommend requesting a brewery tour while you’re there. It was quite impressive to learn that they use only the finest, freshest ingredients with no additives, preservatives or fillers. Try the Buckhorn Black Lager that is named after the mayor of Tampa, it was my favorite.
Ulele is open for lunch and dinner but it’s highly recommended that you make a reservation. If you just stop in, you may have to wait a while. You can make a reservation for Ulele right from their website; super easy to do! Have you been yet? I’d love to hear what your favorite dish was; just leave a comment below.
Disclosure: Food and drinks were provided for me in exchange for my opinions and this post through a partnership with Tampa Bay Bloggers. Thank you to the entire team of Ulele for a wonderful evening tasting your menu and learning (and falling in love with) your history and your passion. As part of the Tampa Bay Blogging community; we truly appreciate your hospitality.