I went on a flavorful foodie adventure last week with my Tampa Bay Bloggers crew, hosted completely complimentary by the one and only, much talked about, Ulele Restaurant. That’s pronounced (you-lay-lee). If you live in Tampa and you haven’t heard of them yet I question our friendship, seriously. There has been plenty of well-deserved hype surrounding this new addition to the Tampa Riverwalk.
Some of their bragging rights include “One of the Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. by Open Table”, “One of the Best New Restaurants in Florida by Florida Trend”, “Best Overall Restaurant by Yelp Tampa Bay”, and its most recent achievement, the #7 spot for Top 50 Restaurants in Tampa Bay as scored by Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times.
Prior to this event, I had only visited Ulele once with friends for appetizers and cocktails. I was most definitely looking forward to experiencing a sampling of their full menu. However we got far more than a sample. What we received was an avalanche of food! For this post, I thought it would be fun to recount this glutinous night in the most chronological way I could think of, the alphabet.
A – Alligator hush puppies It sounds more intimidating than it is. It’s fried balls of corn meal with meaty chunks of alligator, country ham, duck bacon, jalapeno, and fresh corn.
B – Brewery and Beer! Now I’m a wine girl through and through. However, one of the things Ulele is most proud of is their beer, freshly brewed on site — and it was free so hey, when in Rome right? The beer I tried was Magbee’s Honey Lager. It was light and I actually liked the flavor so much that I ordered a full glass. For a non beer drinker that’s quite an achievement.
C – Chili One of the items on the opening buffet was the Florida Native Chili. It was very tasty, but very heavy so I didn’t eat much. This isn’t your average chili. It was composed of alligator, wild boar, venison, duck, ground chuck, cranberry beans, and chili spices. This would be great on a cold day. It’s also great to put a spoonful on top of your mac n cheese.
D – Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream This is like a dessert from Chopped. If your basket ingredients were cinnamon, corn flakes, duck bacon, ice cream, Knob Creek, caramel and sweet potato waffle crisps, you would have everything you need to assemble this culinary sweet tooth masterpiece. As I so eloquently put it during our twitter recap with @UeleleTampa, “The infamous candied bacon maple fried ice cream was a serious party in my mouth.”
E – Eat your squash This ain’t your grandma’s squash. A tasty side dish offered is Squash Gratin. It’s horno roasted squash, zucchini, red onion, and tomato with a Manchego crust. I think I could get my kiddo to eat this one and like it.
F – Filet Mignon I was both surprised and impressed by this steak. If I had come here on my own I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at the steak because there was just so much to choose from. I also didn’t equate steak with being something they showcase. I was so wrong…so very wrong. I like steak, but I’m far from a steak person and certainly not a steak snob. This was excellent.
G – Grain to grass The Ulele Spring Brewery prides itself on fresh handcrafted ales and lagers that are made with the finest ingredients and no additives, preservatives, or finings. Fun fact? The grains from the brewing process are sent to the rancher that raises the cattle that supplies Ulele’s beef needs.
G is also for gluten-free! They designate the items on the menu that are gluten-free with a GF indicator. I saw many many selections with this designation so if gluten-free is a need for you, you will have plenty of options.
H – Hamburger The Ulele burger is the Kilimanjaro of burgers. Unlike some burgers that are all presentation but no flavor, this burger tastes even better than it looks. It’s not for the faint of heart. This is a mountain of meat: Char-grilled ground short rib, brisket and chuck blend burger topped with our house steak sauce, Wisconsin sharp cheddar, Portobello mushrooms, fire-roasted red peppers and fried leeks served on brioche bun. The burger is on the lunch menu, but I certainly hope it’s available if requested for dinner.
I – Ice Cream!!! The house-made ice cream sent me over the moon. You don’t understand the love affair I have with ice cream. It runs deep. But when I taste ice cream made with such tender love and care like the Ulele ice cream, I start to get down right emotional. We had the toasted coconut served inside a half coconut shell and it was AMAZEBALLS. There was also Valhrona chocolate, Ugandan Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Espresso, and Plant City Strawberry made with fresh strawberries from Plant City. Major feels were had up and down our table over this ice cream. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the day Ulele opens a spin-off ice cream shoppe right down on the banks of the river.
J – Juan’s Snapper We didn’t get a chance to try this dish but it caught my eye on the menu. It’s horno-roasted snapper fillet, Spanish aioli, white truffle garlic spinach. You had me at truffle. On my next visit I think I have to try this so that I can stop thinking about it.
K – Kilo Porterhouse At a whopping 2.2 lbs this is a massive cut of beef. When it was first brought out it reminded me of a Brontosaurus steak from “The Flintstones”. This is for the steak-perts, steak-heads, and serious steak connoisseurs. It’s filet mignon and New York strip loin, dry-aged 24 days and chef-carved off the bone. Let me warn you, this is a special occasion steak so don’t have sticker shock when you see it on the menu. It’s absolutely worth it too.
L – Legend of Ulele The name that inspired the restaurant comes from a Native American princess named Ulele. Her story is found on the back of every menu. The gist of her legend is that the Pocahontas and John Smith story is based on her. In 1528, Ulele was willing to plead for a Spanish explorer named Juan Ortiz when her tribe was about to roast him alive. He was spared because of her actions.
They commissioned an artist to create a sculpture of Princes Ulele. Cave Creek in Arizona created the beautiful bronze image of the brave and strong Ulele of legend. At the end of our brewery tour, we were privileged to see her still in her crate, waiting for the big day when she is placed in her permanent home for all to marvel.
M – Mac and Cheese Ulele’s mac and cheese was very good. They use pasta shells, not noodles which for some reason makes it taste better. (I know that’s not really true but it does to me) They use four cheeses and there’s a hint of beer in it! Why are we not surprised? Mac and Cheese also comes as Crab Mac n Cheese if you want to have a flair of seafood. Personally, I think the Mac and Cheese paired with the chili should be an official thing.
N – Native-inspired If you think this is just a fancy term that sounds good, think again. Ulele uses fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood and other proteins native to Florida when they are available. (the oysters come from Louisiana and I’m okay with that!)
O – Oysters We were served oysters on the half-shell and charbroiled oysters. The oysters on the half shell were very fresh and they are brought in all the way from Louisiana. It was fun to watch some of my dinner mates try them who were oyster virgins. My favorite way to have oysters is charbroiled. Order these! You will not be disappointed.
P – Florida Pompano This was my first time having pompano. It’s a pretty mild white fish. This presentation consisted of the filet, sundried tomato shallot cream, and fried carrot ribbons. The carrot ribbons were very similar to plantain ribbons. They were yum. Put those in a bag and call it a snack! I would most certainly like to eat this dish again when my taste buds aren’t so overworked.
Q – Quail Another appetizer that I wasn’t able to try but I’m very curious about is the country fried quail. I haven’t had quail before so I’m very curious. It’s on my foodie bucket list.
R – Ranch The Strickland Ranch in Mayakka, FL is the source of all of Ulele’s beef. Everything is fresh and never frozen.
S – Salad The Ulele salad is a beautiful, colorful plated garden. Its ingredients are mixed greens, arugula and watercress with baby Swiss, cranberry beans, fire-roasted peppers.
T – Tampa Bay Riverwalk The beauty of Ulele’s location is equally matched to the quality of the food. It’s located on the Tampa Riverwalk adjacent to the Waterworks Park where the Ulele spring flows into the Hillsborough River. The building Ulele chose was actually the original Tampa Water Works Building. It’s worth it to take a stroll through the grounds and take in the scenery.
U – Ulele Well duh, I’m sure you guessed this one.
V – Vegetarian options Not to worry my vegetarian friends! Ulele hasn’t forgotten about you. We tried the Native Saute dish which appears on the lunch menu – Pan-seared zucchini, squash, carrots, onions, baby spinach, Portobello mushroom and green beans with a soy ginger reduction, wild river rice. Other vegetarian friendly meals are indicated on the menu. The dinner menu also offers a daily vegetarian special.
W – White Cheddar Popcorn Mashed Potatoes I don’t really know how they came up with the concept to add the popcorn on the mashed potatoes. Who cares, it works! It tastes great and it makes for a pretty nifty garnish. (See filet mignon dish above)
X – X-cellent Decor The decor of Ulele, is earthy but chic. It’s diverse without the feeling of a cluttered antique shop. It’s worth it to spend some time looking at some of the art like the “Laughing Horse” sculpture or the stained glass panels from the 1700s. There is also quite a bit of interesting sports memorabilia. They even have a baseball signed, by The Babe! Upstairs there is a terrace area which is great for lounging if you’re waiting for your table on a busy night. There is also art throughout the outdoor beer garden.
Y – You must go! This is a culinary funhouse. Treat yourself to a new experience. Indulge in a foodie adventure and try something you haven’t had before like, okra fries or Florida jumpers (frog legs). Celebrate an occasion, have them cater for your large group. Go by yourself and sit at the bar. Go at lunch when some of the items are a little cheaper if you’re ballin’ on a bunch. Just go.
Z – Zestful It was truly a zestful evening at Ulele. The service was spot on. It was very interesting to learn about the history and the concept behind this project as well as learning about their brewery process on the tour. I was with great company with the other bloggers and we all enjoyed pushing our palettes just a little bit further beyond their mundane everyday experiences.
Now how about a round of applause, because I wasn’t so sure about X and Z! This was not easy but I actually had a lot of fun writing this review. I have a friend coming to town this month and we’ve already made our reservations!
If you are ready to follow suite, you can make your reservations at www.Ulele.com or give them a call 813.999.4952. You can also find their full menus and more details of the history on their website.
I want to hear from you! Have you been? What was your favorite dish? If you haven’t been yet, go and then come back here and tell me all about it!
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”