Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"The history of this building, that in itself is a story..."

If Norman Rockwell visited right here he would surely drop everything and pick up his paint brush.  

A little boy walking his dog. 
.... A couple sitting on a park bench watching the sunset.
........The laughter of children on the swings.
.............A breeze rippling the waters of a babbling spring .
................. And the best part, a family sitting down together to enjoy a hearty meal.

Picture it in your mind.
A snapshot of Americana.

This truly exists today and we are blessed to have it here in the very heart of Tampa, FL. 

Honoring the American spirit - much like Rockwell - Richard Gonzmart and his team named this beautiful place Ulele and it is now open for all to enjoy.
In fact, I believe that Richard Gonzmart and Norman Rockwell have a lot more in common than one might think. Rockwell was an American artist with a talent to capture personal moments and places -his art often gracing the popular covers of The Saurday Evening Post.  America went through numerous changes during Rockwell's sixty year career and many times he illustrated these transitions from an old way of life to a new future by combining something traditional with something modern.  This too rings true with the beautiful Ulele restaurant and of Gonzmart -being a man with a deep appreciation of the genunine good life we are all striving to preserve.  

Richard Gonzmart with his granddaughter, Amelia Turner. She had just finished throwing food pebbles to the catfish in the spring from Inside the Ulele VIP Party slideshow from the Tampa Bay Business Journal - picture by Eric Snider.

You can read a tremendous article here written by Eric Snyder in the Tampa Business Journal about Gonzmart and his endeavors - who is the fourth generation owner of the famous Columbia Restaurant (which undoubtedly is one of the most historic Florida restaurants). But Richard is so much more than an entreprenuer... he is a survivor, a family man, a genuine philanthropist, and lover of life.  Once you've met him, you feel like you are family.  
My good friend Susan Hausler and Richard Gonzmart celebrating the opening of Ulele.
As Richard says, "I guess I take after both my grandfather and father. Like them a lot of Don Quixote lives within me. Their history is frequently on my mind. It echoes in many of the choices we make in our business even as we create new memories and new history."  

Pretty Rockwell-ish don't you think?
Stained glass windows from Gonzmart's personal family collection that found an amazing home in the restaurant, just above the doors to the executive kitchen.  
Ulele is located at 1810 North Highland Avenue in Tampa on the historic and beautiful Hillsborough river just north of downtown.  It is beautiful both inside and out.  Art pieces were delicately chosen with care- many of them specifically made for their place of honor in this restaurant's decor.   

 There is much history to the name Ulele both personally for Gonzmart and historically for Florida.  

You really can picture it all and it is hard to put it all into one photo or paragraph.  The river and the babbling spring, the lively conversation in the bar, the heat searing from the open kitchen, the clink of glasses in the beer garden, the whispers on the couches of the rooftop terrace, the almost unreal and lush landscaping, the water works park with giggling kids, puppies playing in the dog park nearby, and a view worth the price of a Rockwell painting... and I am not exaggerating here. You can FEEL the history and new memories being born here.  

And the interior is just as beautiful!

This photo is from
“Commonplaces are never tiresome.  It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious or appreciative...[We] find that it is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint.” –Norman Rockwell

Managing partner Keith Sedeta also said it well, "The history of this building, that in itself is a story..."  The Ulele spring was in much need of some TLC and the old waterworks building that Ulele now occupies will certainly be Gonzmart's legacy.

Brewmaster Tim Shackton enjoys his huge state of the art onsite brewery making craft beer only available at Ulele (just ask em for a brewery tour after dinner). 
I snagged my friend's camera and took this picture of our good friend Gerardo Luna and Brewmaster Tim SChackton during our behind the scenes brewery tour.
This photo is from
And the roof top terrace and downstairs beer garden offer a delightful variety in al fresco dining.  

It is -at the same time -great for romantics as well as for foodie groups or corporate events too!  

This photo is from
They also have a striking wine cellar right under the stairs specializing in wines from the US.  (Don't mind the beautiful models posing in front of it for our fantastic local photographer, Gerardo Luna.)  Check out more amazing photos of Ulele on his website or facebook page here.  
And then there is the food.... OH The Food!!!...(clearly I went back three or five times to enjoy and get all these yummy pics- ahh a blogger's work is almost never done...) 
Fresh Florida lobster claw cocktail
Jalapeno corn beer bread
Crispy calamari
Top sirloin and fresh salads

Flank steak
seafood pot pie
water works meatloaf
beer pan chicken
 Oh and  did I mention they are now open for lunch too....

But wait!!!  How about some completely unqiue and amazing desserts?
Guava pie
amazing homemade ice creams
delicious coffees
Why YES, this IS "candied duck bacon maple fried ice cream".....
Executive Chef Eric Lackey keeps the entire ranch-to-table process on the forefront of the menu.  I can attest to their marketing being completely on point on their site, "The restaurant and brewery serve unique foods and spirits by fusing elements from a rich variety of Native American and multicultural influences, including those of European explorers.  The menu features items indigenous to this area's waters and farms."  The complete menu is available here.
Chef Lackey in front of a custom made gas grill that does up to 800 degrees  right in the front of the dining room.  

Chef loves to hear great feedback from his customers and is often moving from the front grill to the dining floor to the back kitchens on the go and concentrating.  Myself, Chef Lackey, Susan Hausler and Mimi Batcho - Photo by Gerardo Luna

This Americana - this beautiful place is now restored to what it should be.  I am pretty sure Richard Gonzmart would agree with Norman Rockwell, who said it well...

"I paint life as I would like it to be." 
And Rockwell certainly would find Ulele to be fresh inspiration as well.  As Richard says,

"Here's to life and embracing each day with passion, compassion, integrity, faith and purpose!"

Ulele on Urbanspoon