- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Ugly Mug is a recent addition to the many new restaurants on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row (Eighth Street, SE), which include ethnic, family-friendly and fine dining eateries.

“We wanted to be something nobody else is trying to be on Eighth Street — a simple neighborhood bar,” says co-owner Gaynor Jablonski.

In this respect, the Ugly Mug has succeeded. It’s a place where suits, students, police officers and blue-collar types eat and drink until the wee hours (2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). It’s an adult bar experience where smokers are welcome, where 24 different beers — including Guinness, Stella Artois and Anchor Steam — are offered on tap and classic rock flows from the speakers. No strollers or high chairs were present on a recent evening.

It is also a welcome watering hole for sports fans. Ten flat-screen televisions line the walls providing all guests a good seat in the house.

Mr. Jablonski, however, also says he wants the bar to be known for its great food. But here and in the service department the Ugly Mug has some work to do. Ordering at the bar was quick and friendly. Table service, however, was a different ball game — always friendly, but for long stretches nowhere to be seen. A round of beers and waters took up to 20 minutes. And getting the check also provided a lesson in patience.

The food was uneven, starting and ending nicely, but with some big disappointments in between.

The mini-cheeseburgers, served on brioche with cheese and a slice of pickle, were excellent. The meat was seasoned and prepared perfectly. It was served with fried onion straws that were on the greasy side, foreshadowing things to come.

The pan-seared mini-crab cakes, served with a plate of fresh mixed greens and garlic aioli, were tasty with a nice kick to them. But they were a bit light on crab and heavy on starchy filler.

The spinach salad with pecans, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese and potato croutons, was generous and fresh. But the amounts of each ingredient seemed a little off. The dish arrived with enough pecans and eggs to feed 10.

The filet BLT was very nice with a grilled super tender beef tenderloin on an English muffin with tasty bacon, fresh lettuce and tomato and tarragon mayonnaise.

But then things started to go south. The fish and chips — cod battered in Foggy Bottom beer and served with french fries and tartar sauce — were so greasy they dripped. But, in fairness, the flavor was right on the money, as was the quality of the cod.

Another disappointment came in the pizza department. There are a dozen choices, and guests can create their own pizza. Each pizza is 12 inches across and consists of six slices. We chose the Chipotle chicken and smoked Gouda pizza and the prosciutto pizza.

The Chipotle chicken pizza was so spicy it was barely edible. Even a guest, who normally prides himself on enjoying Tabasco-infused foods, could hardly take it.

The prosciutto variety, consisting of prosciutto, roasted garlic, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, wasn’t a favorite either. It was greasy and the cheeses tasted and looked more like cream cheese.

The only good thing about these pizzas was the crust, which was tasty, thin and crisp.

The desserts, however, were great. There are a mere two choices, a delicious, huge piece of chocolate chip bread pudding with caramel sauce, which is made in-house, and an equally yummy New York cheesecake, which is not.

A word of advice: Bring some antacid, because these chefs don’t hold back on the grease, and for tummies not used to the fare, it burns.

Ten weeks into being, the Ugly Mug has become a popular hangout, particularly on the weekends, offering a friendly atmosphere, sports on flat screens and a superb selection of beers. Food preparation and service, though, need tweaking.

RESTAURANT: The Ugly Mug, 723 Eighth St. SE. 202/547-8459; www.uglymugdc.com.

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

PRICES: Starters $5 to $12; main courses $9 to $19; desserts $5.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

PARKING: Limited street parking; Eastern Market is the closest Metro stop.

ACCESS: Wheelchair access.

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