Diner Dreams Come True at The Ugly Mug

Oh, Mr. Groundhog. You’ve angered a lot of people with what seems like a false prediction of early spring. Many of us here in the Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire region are currently having another snow day, after just having one on Friday. Because I think Salem is gorgeous in the snow, despite the hassle of bringing the car to a packed parking garage during a snow emergency parking ban, I wanted to make the best of the morning. I thought, what better way to kick off a snow day than trying a breakfast spot we hadn’t been to before? Enter: The Ugly Mug Diner!

A well-lit, inviting atmosphere adds to the ambiance at The Ugly Mug Diner.

The Ugly Mug Diner opened in 2014 while I was living in New Hampshire, or I would have tried it back then. I’m thrilled that this snow day allowed me the opportunity to check it out because this is definitely going to be my new breakfast spot. This diner, while cozy, is definitely not what I like to call a “dive bar diner”. You won’t find a dark, outdated environment or outdated menu items here!

The interior is very clean with a creative, quirky style of decor. If you look close enough in the photo above you can see that the lights over the counter are actually coffee pots! There were also cheese grater lights above our table. I absolutely loved this – what an excellent and unique idea. While not what I would call a rustic place, the multiple chalkboard menus added a touch of a homestyle feel. Near our seat I was delighted to see “pigography” by super talented and super sweet local photographer, Joey Phoenix. Retro 80s tunes played over the sound system, and the vibe in the diner was upbeat and friendly, yet relaxing.

You can’t help but smile at the adorable guinea pigs photographed by the talented Joey Phoenix. You can purchase these sweet scenes as well!

Now, for the best part: the eats. The Ugly Mug Diner is a far step ahead in my eyes in inspired diner food and beverage offerings. Sure, you could get plain pancakes and regular coffee here if you preferred, but with so many other standout menu options, I’m not certain you’d want to! It’s obvious that all involved in running this diner take pride in the food they serve. Their website describes it perfectly on the welcome page when it says, “We are a foodie haven, not a greasy spoon”.

One of the Ugly Mug menu pages, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch on the Benedict section!

An example of items on the sweeter side would be “The Elvis Waffle”, which includes peanut butter cup chunks, banana, bacon and whipped cream. Looking for something eggy? Perhaps try the Vegiluxe off of their “Deluxe Egg Sammiches” menu, which includes a fried egg, caramelized onions, Portobello, roasted tomato and roasted garlic goat cheese. If Benedict is your style, there are several options (hello Joe’s Fishprints Dueling Crustaceans benedict, I imagined to be named after the shop on Pickering Wharf). This section of the menu is complete with a photo of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch at the top.

There are also “Sammiches” and burger options sure to please the palate. Meat lovers will drool over The P.E.L.T., which includes  “bacon and pork belly confit in a double decker BLT with sriracha aioli on sourdough bread”. I could go on and on about the different mouthwatering combinations of food at The Ugly Mug Diner, but you can just check it all out yourself here.

Which winter drink special sounds most appealing to you?

We can’t forget about drinks, and drinks there certainly are here! I have never seen such a wide variety of drinks at a diner, and I think I’m in love. They even serve adult beverages, people! You want beer? Order it up! Even try a beer cocktail while you’re at it! (The High Life Lime Rickey sounds good to me.) Don’t whine about no wine here, because it’s on the menu. Mimosas? Of course!

If the morning isn’t quite your happy hour, perk up with one of the many caffeinated options. I’ll admit, I played the safe route because I was strongly craving a Chai Latte so that’s what I got, but it was very hard to pass up ordering something like their Salted Caramel Mocha or Nutella Latte. The Toasted Marshmallow Hot Chocolate was also in the running for me. I didn’t regret the Chai Latte though, because it was actually a combo of their own Chai made in-house with tea from MEM tea in Watertown, MA.

The vast collection of ugly mugs at the aptly named diner is a delightful part of visiting!

Drinks are served to customers in random “ugly” mugs, of which I’ve heard come from a huge collection within the diner. One of my favorite parts of the experience was looking around to see all the crazy awesome mugs other patrons were sipping out of.  I definitely got an ugly mug as you can see – it has the name of a water treatment company from South Carolina on it. Nick’s mug is actually really cute, though. Who doesn’t love cartoon penguins in winter hats? Around the room, I also saw a mug with an image of the Beatles, and a funny-shaped one with the face of what seemed like a troll or a giant of some sort. I can’t wait for my next trip back to the diner just to see which mug I get next!

As for the meal, I couldn’t resist the sound of the Carrot Cake pancakes, which were written on the Specials chalkboard, complete with little carrot drawings next to it. I’m a sucker for anything adorable like that, so the deal was sealed for me.  I also got a scrambled egg on the side. Nick ordered the Western Omelet (sans avocado, which it usually comes with) and a Banana Nut muffin, which was also on the chalkboard, grilled up for warmth with butter on the side.

No words for the deliciousness of these Carrot Cake pancakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever had more enjoyable pancakes. The thought of Carrot Cake pancakes never even occurred to me. These were SO delicious, warm and soft with the scrumptious taste of carrot cake as if it was fresh from grandma’s kitchen. Sweet but not too much so, as the melty, sweet-tooth satisfying frosting provided that extra shot of sugary delight. There were actually carrot shavings on the side, so I tricked my mind into thinking, oh look! We’re even getting our vitamins today! I hope this is one special that returns again and again on the chalkboard.

Nick likes to put ketchup on everything…I’m not such a fan, but to each their own!

I know, I know, this is a horrible shot of Nick’s plate, but that’s because I was in a rush to take the first bite of those Carrot Cake pancakes 😉 As a side to his Western Omelet, Nick got a homefries mix, half regular and half sweet potato. I just had to try the sweet potato (love everything s.p.) and they were outstanding. I would take those over regular homefries any day, any time.

All too soon, it seemed like we had devoured our plates and our time at The Ugly Mug Diner came to a close as we geared up to head back out into the bitterly cold wind and snow. At least we would walk home (actually, to the bank first) full and satisfied! I’m already thinking ahead to my next visit to this delicious diner, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. After all, Ugly Mug won Editors’ Choice for Best Breakfast and Readers’ Choice for Best Brunch in Northshore Magazine’s Best of the North Shore 2015.

If you’re in the Salem, Massachusetts area, take some time to start your day out at The Ugly Mug Diner! Or, check it out for lunch. It’s open 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM every day. When you do go, let me know what mug you get in the comments 🙂

Featured: The Ugly Mug Diner – 122 Washington Street, Salem, MA, 978.745.MUGG (6844)

A Fun Fall Night at the Black Cow Tap & Grill

Saturday was a chilly, windy day here in Massachusetts and the threat of rain loomed. While it didn’t actually rain, it was not the greatest day to do any outdoor activities so we hunkered down inside watching football. However, it was the weekend, and it’s no fun to just sit inside the apartment the whole day. We decided to step out into society and try to find a place around that we hadn’t been to for a drink, some light food, and college football watching.

My mind drifted to the Black Cow Tap & Grill in Hamilton, MA (there is also one in Newburyport). I had heard good things about the restaurant and had wanted to try it, but it’s one of those things that just always seemed to slip my mind.  I’m really glad we had time on our hands and the idea to visit a different town because I think this will be one of my new favorite stops!

bch wall

We arrived around 4:00pm, that awkward time between lunch and dinner on the weekends, so it wasn’t very busy at all when we got there. We found a couple of seats at the bar and looked around admirably. I absolutely loved the ambiance of the restaurant – it featured a rich, dark color scheme, and industrial touches with almost a vintage side, such as the exposed wood beam ceilings with visible ductwork painted black. The brick walls made it feel loft-like, and there was a triple-shelved wine rack that would make all my dreams complete if it were in my home. The bar was large and fully stocked, with what seemed like endless beer taps, and offered three big screen TVs facing each angle.

bar and tvs

We were given drink and food menus and set to work deciding what we wanted. Unfortunately, the Black Cow website menus hadn’t been changed to match those actually in the restaurants, so the drink I had gotten excited about online was sadly a no-go (an apple cider hot toddy style beverage). I chose to go with the Blueberry Vojito instead. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with a cocktail that includes blueberries, simple syrup, club soda, and mint. Nick got Tuckerman’s Pale Ale, one of his favorite beers. The great thing about Tuckerman’s is that it’s New England-based, right in Conway, NH!

blueberry vojito

Eventually, we got a little hungry and wanted to split something. I have an obsession with margherita pizza and saw that they had one on the menu which included prosciutto. I needed to try that for sure! It was absolutely delicious and we finished it in no time. The prosciutto added a more flavorful touch to what it usually a meatless pizza, and the mozzarella and tomatoes were so fresh.

pizza

I ended up ordering a beer called “Roadsmary’s Baby” made by Two Roads Brewing Company, also out of New England (Connecticut to be exact). It was a pumpkin ale that I’d never tried before, but it was rich and strong, with 6.8% ABV. I know a lot of people who turn their noses up at the pumpkin kinds, but I think Roadsmary’s Baby would satisfy even those picky beer drinkers. It’s not too overwhelming with pumpkin flavor, but is perfect for a harvest season. And I dare you to try not to call it Rosemary’s Baby like the movie…I accidentally ordered it that way, and the bartender said everyone seems to make that mistake!

roadsmarys baby

My Galaxy phone isn’t the best at taking high quality beer photos…but I try.

Once we were getting ready to leave a little before 6pm, the Black Cow had turned into a packed house. There were no more seats left at the bar and it seemed like every table was filled. The patrons seemed to be comprised mostly of adult couples or families, as well as some individuals at the bar. There was a friendly and upbeat atmosphere and even though it was busy, it didn’t feel overwhelming. We got to chatting with a few people at the bar, one in particular named Steven who was a great match for Nick to talk to all about football, as I was no help in making conversation in that area!

I loved the decor at the Black Cow.

I loved the decor at the Black Cow.

We were having such a great time at the Black Cow that we almost didn’t want to leave. It just has that jovial vibe, friendly staff, pleasant customers and trendy surroundings. We only live a couple towns away, so I know we will be back sooner rather than later to try some more delicious drinks and menu items…umm, Fall Harvest Ravioli? Beer Can Chicken? Yes, please. Those are next on my list. If you find yourself in the Hamilton, MA area, the Black Cow Tap & Grill is a must-visit!

Featured:
Black Cow Tap & Grill Hamilton – 16 Bay Road, Hamilton, MA, 978.468.1166
(also located in Newburyport, MA at 5R Merrimac Street)

An Outstanding Lunch at Sea Level Oyster Bar

outside restaurant

The other weekend, Nick and I were finally able to experience Salem’s newest and very rave-reviewed restaurant, Sea Level Oyster Bar. I had been seeing so many social media posts from friends and other businesses in the Salem area featuring their amazing drinks and meals from Sea Level, and I could not wait to try it out. It certainly lived up to all the hype!

Customers use this handy paper to order their oysters.

We went on Memorial Day, so it was busy as expected but there was plenty of room because there is an upstairs and a downstairs. We chose to sit downstairs and were led to a table by a window overlooking the beautiful Derby Wharf and the majestic historic ship, The Friendship. Although our area wasn’t directly open to the outdoors, the upstairs of the restaurant and certain areas of the downstairs are, and the whole space was very open and inviting. I wish I’d gotten more interior shots, but I was so focused on the mouthwatering food surrounding me as you will see…

Even on cloudy days, the view is pretty.

The view is pretty even on cloudy days.

Our table was covered by a large white paper cloth, and our waitress wrote her name on it when she introduced herself which I thought was a great idea. Nick started with a bowl of the New England Clam Chowder and he was an instant fan, saying it was some of the best chowder he ever had. When he got up from the table for a minute, he even told me to make sure the last bites left in the bowl weren’t taken away by the waitress!

I started out with a drink recommended to me by Joe Keefe, the General Manager of Sea Level Oyster Bar. The drink is called the Strawberry and Basil Shrub, and it was honestly one of the most unique tasting drinks I have ever had – I loved it! I wasn’t sure how I was going to like the basil aspect, but it really added a refreshing and tastebud-enticing flavor to the cocktail. This drink is definitely a must on a hot summer day while you relax overlooking the great views offered at Sea Level.

sealevel

Sea Level Oyster Bar offers many more options than seafood for those like me who are allergic to shellfish. For my meal, I ordered the Grilled Cheese, but this was no ordinary Grilled Cheese. This version came with Red Dragon and cheddar cheese, ale mustard, apples, and bacon on grilled Texas toast. The texture of the apples, bacon, and cheese were a wonderful combination. The ale mustard really took the sandwich to another level. I’m not even a mustard gal, but I would like to purchase a bottle of this stuff!

A much more grown-up grilled cheese, with a side of house made chips!

A much more grown-up grilled cheese, with a side of house made chips!

Nick ordered the So Cal Chicken Sandwich, which features grilled chicken, bacon, cheddar, avocado, lettuce, and tomato on grilled Texas toast. He was very satisfied with his choice, and I had a bite as well. You can never go wrong with grilled chicken, avocado and bacon!

Because we wanted the full experience, we decided to take a look at the dessert menu. In an act I’d never seen at a restaurant before, the waitress came over and stamped the dessert menu onto our paper tablecloth. What a unique idea!

We chose the Salted Caramel Cookie Pie with vanilla ice cream on top – so decadent, so delicious. A group at the table near us even ordered the same dessert because they looked over and saw us eating ours in delight. Salty and sweet is one of my favorite flavor combos.

At the end of our meal, our bellies were more than full and our spirits were up. Eating food clearly made with care and detail and having the tastiest of drinks while overlooking the gorgeous views of Salem, Massachusetts is an experience I highly recommend. Sea Level Oyster Bar absolutely deserves all the praise it has been getting since its opening. Here’s to many more successful years of business!

Featured: 
Sea Level Oyster Bar – 94 Wharf Street, Salem, MA, 978.741.0555

Comfort Food for a Chilly Night at the Homestead

exterior

I haven’t often been to the Merrimack, NH area lately, but last weekend Nick and I just so happened to be and decided to spend time visiting a new restaurant (new to us anyway). We settled on The Homestead Restaurant & Tavern off of D.W. Highway after we remembered hearing good things about it. I was excited to give it a shot!

As you may know from other posts, I am a history buff and was thrilled to learn that the building which houses the Homestead was built in the 1700s, one of my favorite time periods. As we walked in the door, I instantly knew that this would be a cozy New England dinner based on the atmosphere. The space was decorated with classic decor such as bookshelves, painted pictures and old fashioned wagon wheels. It was quiet in the background of the restaurant, although there were plenty of diners chattering away.

interior

These tables were all full when we got there – we took our time eating!

After being seated instantly upon walking in (bonus points, although we did come in a bit late),  Nick and I were greeted by our server Erin, who was very friendly and knowledgeable of the menu. Starting with drinks, Nick ordered the locally brewed Auburn ale from the Able Ebenezer Brewing Company, also out of Merrimack, and I ordered the red house sangria. I always have to go with that option when I see it on a drink menu! Normally I prefer a glass of white wine to red, but I’m the opposite with my sangria. Nick was very satisfied with his beer and was happy to support a local brewery, while I was on cloud nine with my sangria. I’ve had some less than stellar versions at other restaurants, but that was happily not the case at the Homestead!

sangria

Pre-dinner, we were given two kinds of bread – tasty rolls and an absolutely delicious zucchini bread. I almost filled myself up on that alone! For an entree I was in the mood for warm comfort food, what with all the snow and ice just outside the window. I substituted my rice pilaf side for sweet potato fries, which is another menu item I can’t pass up anywhere. Nick’s favorite meal is shepherd’s pie, and the Homestead has a winter special called Rib-Eye Shepherd’s Pie – two of his favorites in one! Of course that’s what he had to order.

Shepherd's Pie with steak - you can't go wrong ordering that!

Shepherd’s pie with rib eye – you can’t go wrong ordering this!

The food took a bit to come out, which is always a positive thing in the dining world as you know what you are about to get is truly fresh. Sure enough, my chicken pot pie was just as good as Mom’s, with hearty pieces of chicken and veggies in a delicious cream sauce topped with freshly baked flaky puff pastry. Nick feasted on his mouthwatering Rib-Eye Shepherd’s Pie and polished it all off. He added ketchup which I think detracts from the flavors of the meal, but he and our server chatted agreed that they both love doing so with their food! The sweet potato fries certainly tasted homemade, with the perfect texture. I may not like to add ketchup to other foods, but I certainly smother my fries with it!

Chicken pot pie perfection

Chicken pot pie perfection

After eating so much we thought we wouldn’t be able to stand up, Nick and I passed on dessert but didn’t want to leave yet. We felt coffee was in order, but not just any coffee. We wanted to go the Irish way and add a bit of liquor – hey, it was Friday night after all! Erin, our server, suggested her favorite spiked coffee choice, made with Bailey’s and Kahlua. After tasting it, we were so thankful for her input. I wish I could have coffee like that all the time, but I guess I should save it for the weekends 🙂

After a long time spent savoring our drinks, meals and coffee, it was time for the restaurant to close and for us to head on home. I think we may have waddled as we walked out the door! That’s how you know it was a dining experience done right. If you’re looking for a calm, comfy place where you can take your time dining, enjoy wonderful service and relax in a cozy, classic place to stay out of the New Hampshire cold, I would definitely recommend The Homestead in Merrimack!

Featured:

The Homestead Restaurant & Tavern – 642 D.W. Highway, Merrimack, NH, 603.429.2022 (also a location in Bristol, NH)