This past Saturday the weather was perfect. The kind of weather that makes trudging through those 100° heat index days here in Florida worth it. So with the perfect weather on deck for our Saturday, my daughter and I took off for a Tampa Father-Daughter Day where we hoped to enjoy the Tampa Bay Coffee & Art Festival paired with one of our new favorite restaurants, Ulele.
Our first stop ended up being Lowry Park Zoo instead of the Tampa Bay Coffee & Art Festival.
Nestled in the heart of Tampa just west of the Hillsborough River, Lowry Park Zoo is one of the best zoos in the Central Florida area (if not the state) and has been a favorite of my family since I was a young tyke. Originating in the 1930s, Lowry Park Zoo offers over 50 acres of park space where it’s 1 million+ annual visitors can view the more than 1,000 animals currently in it’s care.
This visit I was lucky enough to snag a great deal to pay for our admission for the day and have free admission the remainder of the year. We’ll certainly be planning our next visit soon before the summer heat fully sets in.
Our next stop, which I like to think was for me, but was equally enjoyed by my daughter, was Ulele.
Ulele is located directly on the Tampa Riverwalk next to the Water Works Park in the Tampa Heights neighborhood north of Downtown Tampa. It’s proximity to the zoo (just a 10-minute drive south of the zoo), picturesque location and surroundings made it a perfect ending to our day in Tampa before we headed back to Orlando.
Originally built in 1906 as a water works building, it now pays homage to the young Native American princess Ulele from which it gets its namesake (make sure to check out the sculpture of her in the garden). Visitors young and young at heart will enjoy a walk around the grounds of the restaurant to take in the ambience that is Ulele. From the art that adorns the walls to the custom hand-crafted tables (not to mention the massive “Laughing Horse” sculpture), one could spend hours just admiring the details that went into developing and filling the space. The space itself is a work of art.
Brewed in-house in their 2,100 square foot brewery, Ulele has six staple lager-style beers and several seasonal and limited release brews. During my first visit, I had the Honey Lager, but this visit I lucked out and was able to get a DIPA, both were great. If beer isn’t your thing, Ulele also offers an expansive list of wines and signature cocktails that they can serve up.
Here’s a sampling of what they have to offer (borrowed from Ulele’s website):
- Rusty’s Red – Amber lager delivers clean bitterness on the front of the palate. Finishes with caramel and roasted chocolate notes.
- Water Works Pale Lager – Blended with domestic and imported hops. Pleasant mineral dryness followed by a citrusy finish. Signature beer to pair with chargrilled oysters.
- Ulele Light Lager – Reinheitsgebot and Krausened International Pale Lager. Floral, noble bitterness. Dry and clean finish.
- Magbee’s Honey Lager – Locally sourced honey drives this semi-sweet golden/amber lager’s flavor. Pairs well with pork.
- Wedding Beer – Traditional unfiltered lager infused with a light blend of natural black and red berries. Fruit balances with light malt in a delicate finish.
- Hydration Station – A clean-flavored, low-carb Mexican-style, light ultra lager.
Staying true to the quality that everyone expects from the Gonzmart family (owners of the historic Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City), Ulele does not disappoint. The expansive menu features a nice blend of items from American weeknight favorites like meatloaf to Southern sides such as okra and Florida dishes like Florida Frog Legs and Alligator Hushpuppies. None of the dishes get past the Ulele chef without him first applying his own twist to the dishes though. Make sure you try the okra fries and jalapeño cheddar grit cake (you can thank me later).
A Couple Tips.
Parking – For those unfamiliar with the area, parking seems like a chore (for me at least) if you only look for street parking. Ulele does have parking rights to a parking lot one block north of the restaurant. Just make sure that you park in the back portion of the lot if you arrive before dinner time to avoid a hefty tow bill, not to mention the inconvenience of being towed.
Reservations – Gaining in popularity, Ulele offers reservations (and for good reason). Our first visit soon after their initial opening, we were able to walk right in and be seated immediately. This recent visit, not so much; we waited an hour and a half. But as I mentioned before, exploring the grounds made this wait manageable. But if you’re someone who gets “hangry” (we all do at times), better make a reservation and save the ground exploration for after you enjoy a bite.
You may recall that in my opening I mentioned setting out for Tampa to enjoy the 2017 Tampa Bay Coffee & Art Festival. Unfortunately, due to late planning the festival was sold out and we had to readjust our plans. Luckily for us, the Lowry Park Zoo provided me with rekindled childhood moments that I was able to share with my daughter and to top it off, we were still able to swing by one of our favorite restaurants to end our perfect day (we even scored passes to come back the remainder of the year).
For us, Ulele will be one of those places that when given the opportunity, we will come back again and again. Anxious for our next return.