Well, let's start with the food. Holy wow, the food was incredible. I eat beef about once every few years, but had tasted a burger at Matchbox that was wonderful. When I heard The Ugly Mug had a former Matchbox chef, I had to try it.
I went with a group of couples, none of whom were disappointed in the food. In a nutshell:
Mini Burgers- Holy #@^$^. Incredible. Well-priced.
Some had cheese and others didn't? (why?) Delicious taste of beef and light salt and pepper. Not too greasy.
Onion straws: Nicely seasoned, greasy yet not too much.
Calamari: Seriously good for something that would be passable if only average. They serve it with banana peppers which was a surprisingly nice touch.
Crab Cakes: Not the big lumps of ctrab I prefer (like at G&M in Linthicum), but also not a big hunk of fried bar food. Clearly the chef took some time in figuring out the recipe, plating the dish, etc. I will go back for these.
On food alone, this place is wonderful.
The concerns: We came in before our party, no one greeted us. There was no sign saying to seat ourselves. The bartender basically ignored us. WE were standing just inside waiting.
Our party arrived. Again, 6 people standing there. No one said hello, welcome, have a seat, someone will be right with you.
The place is very strangely decorated. There's definitely room for some more tables if they would take the behemoth booths out and put smaller ones in? Not sure what it would take but all agreed the space was pretty awkward.
The server-- very kind and she was trying really hard, but it seemed very overwhelming to her. She had no idea what beers they had or did not have-- even when given broad categories. She said it was changing every day so she was not sure. The food took forever, it took a long time to get a menu, etc. The place was fairly full, but our order was also pretty simple.
I could go on -- the jukebox ate our money, music in the place kept skipping, we were served the wrong beers, etc., but it seems like they are just trying to get it together.
Honestly, I won't go back for a while. They just don;t seem ready to be open. But after it solidifies, you won;t be able to keep me out of there. Why? The food is just that good. And this neighborhood (8th St. SE) needs more quality places to dine.
Conventional wisdom on the street ( I live and work here) is that Belga Cafe faces the same struggles. Great food, a very challenging time getting service up to speed. Belga does look quite nice unlike UM which for now just looks a bit weird and like it is missing a few things.