With the parents in town, what better excuse to try out a new, highly recommended restaurant with a menu that foodies would obsess over?
Ulele is part of a family of restaurants that began with The Columbia (also a must when visiting Florida). Built directly next to Ulele spring (named after Native American Princess Ulele of local Tocobaga tribe), Ulele (the restaurant) is both inspired by, and homage to, local history and culture. Both the menu and brewery will have a native focus, using fresh ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, seafood and other proteins from Florida as they are available, many cooked to perfection on the restaurant’s ten foot barbacoa grill – which is in full view of patrons, directly across from the bar.
Speaking of the bar… that’s a masterpiece in and of itself. Just inside, and to the right, of Ulele’s front doors, the bar top features local seashells and arrowheads.
Bottles behind the bar are on sliding racks (think old library-style) which is not only sensible, but architecturally stunning.
The bartenders were friendly and knowledgeable – my favorite kind of bartender. They were happy to recommend some of the Ulele microbrews as well as point us towards some of the most popular food items.
We began our visit at Ulele with a round of drinks that we took outside to the beer garden. With a view of the bay, palm trees, and unassuming picnic tables, we were in heaven. I chose a chenin blanc, my mother tried the Princess Ulele Caiparinha (includes pineapple and a ginger liquor) and the men tried Ulele microbrews Rusty Red and Water Works Pale. (Sorry, only remembered to take a photo of my own tasty beverage).
As the air cooled down outside, and we waited for our table, we headed back to the indoor bar for more drinks and a taste of the Florida Native Chili (alligator, wild boar, venison, duck, ground chuck, cranberry beans and spices). Sadly, another missed photo opportunity – I was fully engrossed with the dinner menu, trying to figure out what my main dish would be. The chili, however, was absolutely delicious. Warm, hearty and potentially a meal on its own, if you’re a light eater.
The main floor of Ulele contains not only the bar, a community bar table and the barbacoa grill, but also a dining room.
However, there are additional tables on a lofted second floor. We headed up the stairs, underneath which is the restaurant’s wine “cellar,” to our table.
We found the second floor to be just a little more intimate.
I often find that, even in the very best restaurants, one person at the table ends up with the “winning” entree. (This also brings up something I find very important – dining partners sharing tastes of their dishes. While it isn’t appropriate to eat half of your friend’s meal – unless you planned to do so, when ordering – I do think that one of the great treats of sharing a meal with others is getting to taste more than one dish. Sharing is caring. If you aren’t willing to offer me a bite of your meal, we probably shouldn’t go out to eat together.)
Back to our Ulele dinner. I honestly didn’t think that there was a winner! Every single dish was phenomenal and would be something I’d order on a future occasion. Full disclosure, both my father and Adam thought that the meatloaf was the best entree at our table. To be fair, the meatloaf is something that I’d heard about, prior to our dinner, from multiple persons. It’s amazing. The Water Works Meatloaf is made with ground dry-aged strip loin, fresh vegetables and a cabernet demi-glace, served over white cheddar popcorn mash with tobacco onions.
My mother went light with the lobster cake appetizer – fresh, live, butter-poached lobster tail meat, cast-iron seared, served with a cucumber ginger salad. The cake was surprisingly spicy, but perfectly so.
Adam opted for Juan’s Snapper. Horno-roasted snapper fillet with Spanish aioli and served over white truffle garlic spinach. We had to Google Horno – it’s a mud adobe-built outdoor oven (according to Wikipedia). I always love snapper, but this ensemble was perfection. A savory symphony, if you will.
And yours truly opted for the Flank Steak, marinated in garlic sea salt and olive oil, thinly sliced, and served with Florida avocado “Jimmychurri” sauce, atop white cheddar popcorn mash.
Despite the fact that we likely could have stopped there, and gone home quite sated, we couldn’t resist trying a couple of the desserts. Honestly, I might have chosen my dessert before I chose my entree. There was no way I wasn’t finding room for Ulele’s Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream. Oh, yes. Cinnamon corn flake candied duck bacon crust, Knob Creek crème anglaise, caramel and a sweet potato waffle crisp. Worth every calorie.
Also delicious was the Key West Key Lime Ice Cream Stack. It was sort of like eating Key Lime pie in a meringue form. Insanely light, but full of flavor.
Ulele has to be one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in Tampa Bay, full stop. To be clear, this is NOT a sponsored post – just me sharing one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time. That being said, I would be happy to partake of future sponsorship by Ulele. Yes, please!