Disclaimer: This post was made possible through collaborative partnership with Ulele and Tampa Bay Bloggers.
The joke in Florida is that no one is “FROM” Florida. Everyone’s a transplant. From NY. From New England. The Midwest. Even sporadically Colorado and places further out west. But people aren’t from Florida and certainly not native to Tampa.
Princess Ulele and the new Ulele restaurant in Tampa Heights proves that culture, history, and exquisite foods and brews belong in Tampa Bay. In fact, Tampa’s rich heritage shines at Ulele, which has been listed as “One of the Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. by Open Table,” “One of the Best New Restaurants in Florida by Florida Trend,” the “Best Overall Restaurant by Yelp Tampa Bay,” and holds the #7 spot for Top 50 Restaurants in Tampa Bay as scored by Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times.
Who is Princess Ulele? Why, she’s the pre-Pocahontas Tampa legend. According to local legend, Princess Ulele roamed the Tampa Bay area in the 16th Century. The Tocobaga Indian tribe captured several Spanish explorers and wanted revenge. (Supposedly the Spanish had done some not-so-nice stuff like cutting off a Tocobaga’s nose and feeding it to the dogs.) So when the tribe captured three Spanish the chief wanted to enact revenge and brutally murder and punish the explorers. Just like Pocohantas-John Smith myth, Ulele is said to have thrown herself on top of the body of one of the Spanish explorers and, by doing so, spared the man’s life. Whether or not the tale is fact or fiction, Ulele reveals a hidden side to Tampa Bay–a side full of fire, passion, and epic events.
Just as the story of Ulele transforms our understanding of history, Ulele transforms our understanding of local Florida cuisine. Ranging from epic moments (such as the Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream), to charmingly simple spins on Southern classics (such as the flavorful Squash Gratin made with sliced squash gently covered in a thin layer of creamy cheese), Ulele proves that Florida is, indeed, more than the land of Mickey Mouse and retirees. It is a land with an abundant and delectable food landscape–and each and every morsel at this innovative new restaurant thrills the tastebuds.
Beer fan? Ulele has you covered with a wide variety of craft brews made on-site. There’s even a beer garden for nice days where you can sip on your favorite beverage (such as the “Honeymoon” lager with Florida strawberries) and experience the famous Florida sun. Brewery tours are available by request.
Not a beer drinker? Never fear! The menu boasts fantastic craft cocktails, such as the “Water Works Sunset” made with Fontana Pisco, John DeKuyper Elderflower Liqueur, Florida ruby red grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice & house-made grenadine. Other drinks boast simple spins on old favorites, such as an Old Fashion made with Pyrat Rum. Don’t worry, you can get your traditional favorites, as well. Wino? Don’t fear you’ll have to drink a sweet Florida wine; the wine list also shines with fairly priced quality glasses from National and International wineries.
While the drinks are great, the food makes Ulele fantastic. Alligator hush puppies with duck bacon stand-out on the appetizer menu, while fresh gulf oysters can turn even the pickiest of eaters into an oyster lover. The restaurant has no fridges (only coolers), so as you bite into the killer “Kilo Porterhouse” you know you’re eating local cow that was brought in for your meal. Trust me, you can taste the difference! Seared Pompano fish melts in the mouth, while the lunchtime burger puts every other Tampa burger to shame. (The addition of crispy fried leeks on top of gooey sharp cheddar cheese make this burger utterly spectacular.) And you can’t ignore the sides–even the basic mashed potatoes shine with an added popcorn crunch, while the okra fries will make you forget every bad, mushy piece of okra you ever ate as a child.
From beginning to end, dining at Ulele is an unbeatable experience. Not only do you savor the flavors of Florida, but you will discover new flavors you never imagined. Like duck bacon. I have to tell you I fell in love with duck bacon. You think regular bacon is good, you can’t live until you try the fatty duck bacon served a-top heavenly beer-infused macaroni and cheese. Not to mention the candied duck bacon on the Maple Fried Ice Cream for dessert. The best part? As soon as you devour the last bite of dessert, your brain, stomach, and heart are ready to come back again. When every mouthful is utterly delectable, you want to try it all. Again and again.
Like Ulele saved the Spanish explorers, Ulele saves Florida cuisine. From lima beans, to alligator, quail, oysters and beef, Ulele proves that the traditional flavors of the Tampa Bay region are worth exploring, worth savoring, and worth enjoying again and again.
Reservations recommended to guarantee a seat (without the wait.) Ulele is located at 1810 North Highland Avenue, Tampa Fl 33602. For more information visit http://www.ulele.com/. Be sure to follow Ulele on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to stay up-to-date with specials, events, and other news.