From my brief visit to Tampa, Florida I can sum it up like this:
Tampa is on the up and up!
Everywhere you look there is construction going on, remodeling, re-inventing, and reinvigorating a city that at one point was one of the most important cities in the Northern Hemisphere for cigars and other culturally rich areas. However, after the embargo with Cuba a lot of the city was left unused or almost forgotten.
Visiting the city, you will see all the amazing new additions and taking the old and making it into new. This definitely gives it such a great energy which is completely unique to the rest of Florida.
One of those places, newly opened, is Ulele Restaurant.
What Makes Ulele Restaurant Stand Out
Ulele is owned by the Gonzmart family, one of the oldest most respected families in Florida. And without a doubt the most successful restauranteurs of the area judging by their insanely popular and oldest restaurant in Florida – Columbia Restaurant. Their contribution to the city of Tampa is strong and Ulele is one more example of it.
The area where the restaurant is located was once completely abandoned. The actual restaurant is inside the old water pump for the city of Tampa originally built in 1903 – Tampa Water Works Pump. But it was unused for years and the area around it abandoned, stinky and simply unattractive.
The Mayor of the City and the Gonzmart family decided to give this area new life. The Gonzmart’s opened Ulele with the promise that the city will take care of the surroundings. Today, this is Water Works park. It’s absolutely lovely, family friendly and a great place to enjoy the day.
On top of the change, Ulele takes you back to when the Native Americans once ruled this area. The entire menu is based on the type of food the Natives would have eaten off the homeland.
I’m not sure how native this dish is, but it is soooo different and tasty, that you have to save room for dessert:
Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream
Did You Know?
The name Ulele is named after a woman from the Timucuan tribe. Ulele (pronounced YOU-lay-LEE), lived on the land that is now Tampa in the 16th century. According to legend, she saved the life of a sailor sent from Cuba by whisking him away from the clutches of her vengeful father on the Hillsborough River. She is Tampa’s version of Pocahontas.
Interesting Facts About Ulele and History of the Gonzmart Family
Fun Facts About the Restaurant
- Ulele is a native-inspired restaurant and brewery where fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood are all from Florida. Especially the near by farms and towns.
- The wines sold are from the U.S.: California, Oregon, Washington and emerging areas, such as New Mexico, Virginia, New York and Texas.
- Some of the seats and tables come either from old barns or an old courthouse.
- Here you will see art pieces that belong to Richard and Melanie Gonzmart’s private collection.
- There are 1789 signed French stain glass panels over the kitchen doors that were purchased by Cesar and Adela Gonzmart at a 1972 auction.
- There is also a piece called “In the Park.” It’s based on what Richard considers Picasso’s greatest painting, the controversial “Guernica.”
- The “Laughing Horse” sculpture is by Victor Delfin, one of the leading sculptors and painters in Peru.
- In the restaurant you will also see a glass fish, part of Apostol’s “The Sea” collection.
- The instantly iconic “gear” Ulele front doors were created by noted metal worker Dominique Martinez and his team at Rustic Steel Creations.
- Ulele also has a 2,100-square-foot Spring Brewery.
- It creates 15 U.S. barrels (465 gallons) per brew.
- They use malted grains, hops, yeast, fresh fruit and locally sourced honey to create their beers.
- Their beer has no artificial preservatives of any kind.
The History of Gonzmart’s and Their Stamp on the City of Tampa
- Casimiro Hernandez Sr. left his home in Cuba with four young children, and very little money searching opportunity in the U.S.
- His dreams led him to the small town of Ybor City in Tampa and he took a job with the Florida Brewery based there.
- Through dedication and hard work, he became general manager of the brewery.
- Before the Prohibition breweries had small saloons to sell their products. That’s how the Saloon Columbia was born 1903.
- Casimiro Sr. dreamed of owning his own business, and he bought the Saloon in 1905. He also changed the name to Columbia Café.
- In 1919, Casimiro Sr. passed away.
- His oldest son Casimiro Jr. inherited large debts and a business that had to reinvent itself because prohibition had just started.
- It was turned into a small “Fonda” (dining room) but they weren’t selling much.
- Gregorio Marinez Casimiro Jr’s friend and employee gave his savings, $500, to allow the restaurant to keep running.
- Then in 1934, a local banker who knew Casimiro Jr. loaned him $35,000 to build Tampa’s first air conditioned dining room, the “Don Quixote” Court room.
- Two years later Casimiro Jr. built the Patio dining room.
- In 1951 Richard Gonzmart’s parents (the current owner) after years on the road, returned to Ybor City.
- The Columbia Cafe now has over 1500 seats, and they have several locations throughout Florida.
- Ulele is now the newest hot spot, with the best views.
Information for Visiting Ulele Restaurant
Address: 1810 N Highland Ave, Tampa, FL 33602
Sunday – Thursday 11am to 10pm
Friday and Saturday 11 am to 11pm