Amuse-Bouche: Ugly American

OPEN SESAME

Having just come back from Paris, the land of American-loathing (and self-loathing), I’m well acquainted with negative stereotypes surrounding the land of the free and home of the brave. Unabashedly greasy foods are at the top of the list, so Ugly American‘s name, while marvelously apt, doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

The menu contains renditions of nearly everything in the canon of lowbrow American nosh. The sandwich category is duly represented by the likes of pulled pork melts, BLTs, and beer-battered fish. There’s also a handful of hot dogs — including one, The Godzilla, that combines chili, caramelized jalapeños, and pepper rings in one overwhelmed bun — that are good but not great, with too much bun and not enough dog. Prices are incredibly fair, with sandwiches cheaper than those at the Blue Room (a grilled three-cheese is $3!) and the priciest hot dog weighing in at $2.75. But let’s not joke around. If you go to Ugly American, you must get a burger.The beef-in-a-bun thing is done in eight ways, plus a bunch of specials. The “basic” cheeseburger is covered in a mountain of cheese while it’s on the grill, which results in a periphery of fried cheese that one friend described as “magical.” If this does not meet your fanciness quotient, fear not. The Black & Blue, with caramelized onions and a big ol’ scoop of blue cheese, feels pretty grown-up, while The Cowboy, with cheddar, bacon, BBQ sauce, and freakishly addictive onion straws, is the second-most American thing Ugly American has to offer. First prize goes to the Grilled Cheeseburger Deluxe, which uses two grilled cheeses in lieu of a proper bun. (Do this for any other burger for just $2… doesn’t seem to make sense economically, but we’re not complaining!) Tex-Mex, which brings pepper jack cheese and guac together in a should-be-beauteous combo, fell short on account of the guac tasting a little like soap. (WAT.)

Choosing from all the other viable candidates can still be tricky, so it’s a godsend that everything comes in mini versions for $3. If you want to take the healthy route, please don’t sit at my table… but know that you can switch out the cow for turkey, chicken, or veg patties. EVERYONE WINS! A final word on burgers: careful with how you get it cooked. Due to weird science facts that my philosophy-concentrating brain can’t handle, the beef they use stays redder longer, so newcomers are advised to order one notch warmer than what they’re used to. My medium burger was pink in the middle, with plenty of yummy burger juices seeping into the bun. If that doesn’t float your boat, go warmer.

No burger is complete without some good fries, and Ugly American’s are cut to order. Get ’em classic (classic) or sweet potato (meh), naked or tossed with cheddar, wing sauce, or chili. Mozambique fries take things to a new level with a fried egg and shower of parm. The real stars, though, are the poppers. You will be faced with a decision between jalapeño and mac & cheese, but the kind souls at Ugly American will let you do half and half. There is your answer.

Cherry on top: this is a great place for groups. Ordering at the counter means no worries about splitting bills, and giant tables are comfy enough to seat your whole crew. Atmosphere is super-casual (one wall is even dedicated as a canvas for little kids’ doodles) and everything comes in red plastic baskets. It would be especially fun to go here and play a little game to see HOW ugly American you can get. Some ideas to get the ball rolling…

  • Fried pickles: 5 points
  • Fried Twinkies: 8 points
  • Cheddar-chili-wings-Mozambique fries (ask nicely): 12 points
  • Sample platter of every burger (mini): 15 points
  • Sample platter of every burger (regular): 30 points
  • Fried Twinkies, fried pickles, hot dog, and Mozambique fries between grilled cheese bun: infinity points

Getting there: Walk — it’s just on the corner of Ives and Williams.

High: Ugly American does exactly what its name suggests, and it does so beautifully. When you’re craving fatty, carby wonderfulness, let this be your mecca.

Low: Despite the range and creativity of options, some ingredients are sub-par. Guac tastes weird and plasticky; the burgers, while definitely tasty, aren’t the best in PVD (I’d say Harry’s owns that honor).

Bottom line: This place is fun and silly. Go here.

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