“Millions of American women, and some men, commit that outrage every summer day. They are turning a superb treat into mere provender. Shucked and boiled in water, sweet corn is edible and nutritious; roasted in the husk in the hottest possible oven for forty minutes, shucked at the table, and buttered and salted, nothing else, it is ambrosia. No chef’s ingenuity and imagination have ever created a finer dish. American women should themselves be boiled in water.”
-Nero Wolfe, “Murder Is Corny”, 1964 (written by Rex Stout)
Tourist traps and chain restaurants are a pestilence in urban Florida, spread like malaria by that species of bloodsucking parasites known as “real estate developers”. Even the quietest intersection soon sprouts its dollar grocery, drugstore, and pair of warring gas stations, and home-grown cuisine is gradually vanishing. Local character is replaced by garish plastic signs that reflect perfectly the contents of the premises they represent: plastic menus, plastic service, plastic food.
Ulele is a remarkable exception.
Located along Tampa Bay’s new Riverwalk, this restaurant lives and thrives within the renovated water works building next to Ulele Spring. Designed and run by a family of local restaurateurs, the care and attention lavished on every aspect of the business makes for an unforgettable dining experience.
The billing is Native American fused with the cuisine of European explorers. If that tells you as little as it did me, I’ll expound: You’ll find a dozen varieties of fish and seafood from the Gulf, ranging from killer shrimp and grits to oysters (on the half-shell or Barbacoa-grilled). The salads are varied, fresh, and delicious; the burgers are amazing, and I’d personally maim someone for the shrimp po’ boy. They’re justifiably proud of their all-American wine cellar and onsite craft brewery — about each of which I could devote whole pages.
It would be an error to devote oneself entirely to a main dish, as the appetizers, sides, and desserts are well deserving of one’s time and attention. The chili is a symphony of alligator, venison, wild boar, and duck in addition to just enough ground beef to bind the flavors together; I wager you’ll never taste another quite like it. Worthy of mention are the okra fries (not breaded) served with house ketchup, alligator hush puppies, a truly memorable succotash, and fire-roasted corn on the cob that is, though not Wolfe’s famous recipe, nevertheless a delight even he would proclaim “most satisfactory”.
I can only devote a couple of words to desserts (brûléed meringue!) but dinner is not complete without tasting their custom ice cream. My own favorite is their vanilla, but the bacon-maple received the highest compliments as well. This is best accompanied by their very own coffee blend, which is, in a word, perfect.
The reason I started doing these reviews in the first place was to showcase only the excellent, something that’s becoming increasingly hard to find. Ulele is that rarest of gems formed by combining expert management with an inspired menu, and — of greatest importance — enthusiastic and well-informed service.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m; Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m.
For more reading on the history of the environs, try this: