My favorite food is a Burger. I know hard to believe. Burgers are comfort food to me. I have been known to travel in search of the Best Burger Ever. And there is a Burger at a restaurant in Tampa called the Ulele Burger that I have dreamed about since first tasting. But in my quest for the Best Ever Burger I ate my first oyster. And I had to travel to Florida to savor this first ever oyster. The Oyster was Barbacoa-grilled, with a delectable crust of garlic butter, grated Parmesan, Romano cheeses and slices of fresh baked bread for sopping up the sauce. The oyster was incredible! But back to the Best Ever Burger.
Last November being newly retired I was able to spend a week with my son, his wife and my grandchildren in Tampa. My son a food enthusiast (son like mother) raved about a new restaurant on the Tampa Riverwalk called Ulele that had opened in August. Ulele (pronounced you-lay-lee) celebrates the vibrant fusion of ingredients from the Florida waters and land once home to many Native Americans, including a legendary young princess called princess Ulele. As the story goes in the year 1528 the daughter of local Tocabaga chief Hirrihigua, pleaded and threw herself over 17-year-old Juan Ortiz as he was about to be roasted alive in revenge for the tribe’s previous hostile encounters with explorers. Ortiz, a member of the Spanish Narvaez expedition was spared. Whether love or pity prompted Ulele’s actions we will never know. But we prefer to believe it was love – just as we prefer to believe that the all-too-similar Pocahontas-John Smith story 80 years later is based on this one.
The menu features intricately flavored, visually appealing dishes prepared on a 10′ round Barbacoa grill. Barbacoa is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean with the Taíno people, from which the term “barbecue” derives. Of course I had to go, how could I resist? It was a beautiful sunny blue sky day so we sat outside with a spectacular view of the Hillsborough River next to the Ulele Springs which flows to the river within feet of our table. It wasn’t until my second visit though that I saw the exquisite interior of Ulele. Soaring ceilings with an incredible expanse of windows cast light onto the eclectic antiques and artwork painted to highlight special Ulele drinks.
The menu offers a wide array of native inspired seafood. However, the Ulele Burger had caught my attention. The Burger combines char-grilled ground short rib, brisket and a chuck blend. The Burger is adorned with Wisconsin sharp cheddar, portabello mushrooms, fire-roasted red peppers and fried leeks served on a grilled brioche bun. Ulele was switching over from lunch to the dinner menu and for a moment I thought I wouldn’t be able to order The Burger. Our wonderful wait staff was able to convince someone in the kitchen to prepare The Ulele Burger for me. The customer service is genuine and most accommodating. I’m sure there are appropriate words to describe The Burger but calling it a burger hardly does this glorious sandwich justice. The combination of gourmet meats is what makes this Burger incredibly delicious.
My son decided to try the Deconstructed Seafood Pot Pie with gulf seafood chowder, shrimp, pulpo, grouper, smoked oysters, vegetables, and white wine cream with a side of rice and asparagus. I almost regretted ordering the Ulele burger. Almost! The seafood was prepared with a light touch and was buttery delicious with billows of puff pastry to accent the creamy pot pie. As if this meal wasn’t enough my son ordered the Ulele signature dessert dish titled ‘Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Bacon Ice Cream.’ They had me at bacon. This dessert won third place in the 2014 Chef Recipe Contest.
Many thanks to Ulele for accommodating our last minute request for a table and for the rain that forced us inside this most unique and charming restaurant. And not that I needed anyone’s else’s recommendation other than my son’s to eat at Ulele; Emeril featured Ulele on his Cooking Channel TV show; Emeril’s Florida.
If you are ever in Tampa, Ulele is a must do experience. Ulele earns Three Forks!
Ulele is located at 1810 N Highland Ave, Tampa, FL 33602 (813) 999-4952 Price range: $$-$$$ www.ulele.com
One Fork – good but could be better
Two Forks – average, almost there
Three Forks – over the top experience