Tampa’s Ulele (U-layl-lee) restaurant offers some fantastic menu options. The menu is a fusion of ingredients from Floridian water and land. It’s based on Native American lore.
When I first heard that Ulele was inspired by Native ingredients, I immediately thought of fry bread, etc., things common to Plains Native Americans. I love me some fry bread, so I told Lisa that we had to put the restaurant on our list of places to dine at during our trip.
Well, as I examined the menu for choices, I recognized that the menu is based on native foods to the state, not necessarily Native American-based items. Still, the menu looked good and we decided we needed to visit the eatery.
Ulele – on Tampa’s famed Channelside (river) Walk – is named after a Tocobaga tribal member. Or, it may be. Historians aren’t sure if Ulele – the daughter of a chief who allegedly begged her father to spare a Spaniard’s life – actually existed. Some people believe it’s true, while others think of it as a myth.
The restaurant honors the history of this story with a sculpture of Ulele outside the entrance. It was installed a few days before our visit. A ring of fire appears nightly after sunset.
She ordered the Water Works Meatloaf. It consisted of ground dry-aged sirloin with fresh vegetables, cabernet garlic demi glace, white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes and tobacco onion rings. To say it was anything less than delicious is an insult to one’s taste buds.
I ordered “Chief Red Eagle” Duck. It was a charbroiled roasted Maple Leaf duck breast with a port wine orange marmalade. It, too, included fresh vegetables and the white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes. I’ve never eaten duck that was so succulent. I think I had to fight off Lisa for the last piece. It was amazing. Definitely, one of the best meals I’ve ever had at a restaurant.
Ulele is located in the old Tampa Water Works plant building, built in 1902. It was a pumping station for the city when Tampa had a population of 15,000. But, as Tampa rapidly grew, the plant outlived its usefulness. It was closed in 1925.
It surprisingly survived being demolished through the next nearly nine decades. In 1998, then-Mayor Dick Greco sought to improve the Tampa Heights area. Less than a decade later, the Water Works building was designated a historically significant building, and was targeted for development, along with the area.
The Columbia Group – which owns Florida’s original restaurant, the Columbia, in Ybor City – leased the land from the city and sought to open a new restaurant along the river walk. Ulele was born.
During remodeling of the building, the owners found that most of the original windows were still in place and unbroken. They cleaned them up. The interior required little painting, as a power wash revealed a beautiful foundation. The crossbars along the cathedral ceiling area were intact.
The owners did install glass doors where the wooden doors once were. The staff opens them to naturally cool the restaurant during the evening.
The restaurant has an upscale feel, but if definitely eclectic with its customer base. A wedding ceremony and its reception took place outside. Another wedding reception was going on upstairs.
Ulele supports Tama bay sports. A Lightning hockey banner hung over the staircase for dinners on the main level to see. Tampa has advanced to the Eastern Conference finals of the National Hockey League playoffs. The “Bolts” won the Stanley Cup championship in 2004.
Jerseys of Tampa Bay Buccaneer football greats adorn a wall on the second floor.
Ulele has its own brewery. It produces 465 gallons of up to seven types of beer, ranging from pale ale to dark. The brewery has won awards.
Not to be outdone by its beer, Ulele has a fine wine selection. No matter your taste, Ulele can likely meet your needs.
The Ulele’s staff is outstanding and friendly. Everyone we encountered was super nice to us. One of the valets talked with us about being from Omaha. He’d never been to the Midwest, so we described what the area can look like to him. He recommended we check out the river walk downtown after dark for some great views. He was spot on.
The restaurant, as previously mentioned, sits just off the riverwalk. It has a beautiful view of the Channelside. Palm trees dot the walk. The view of the river is impressive. A couple of weeks before our visit, visitors saw a manatee in the natural spring area. It grabbed some vegetation off the shore a=for some fine dining. It must have heard how good Ulele’s food was.
Water Works Park is a few feet from the restaurant. The park is the site of many outdoor weddings. It also has free outdoor concerts and movies during the weekends.
We had an outstanding visit at Ulele. The food, service and views were outstanding. We recommend dining here, either for lunch or dinner.
For more information on Ulele, please visit www.ulele.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Ulele for offering us the media rate for our meal. However, all opinions and views are ours.