Some people would say we were crazy to fly thousands of miles to eat 4 times at a restaurant we had been to only once before.
But food junkies that we are, it's a perfectly rational thing to us, and the whole experience more than lived up to expectations. Fortunately we had JazzFest as a cover story for those who just wouldn't understand our love of the restaurant-as-theatre that is Uglesich's.
We arrived early each day, snagging outside tables the last 3 visits. We loved enjoying our parade of food while enjoying the parade of people looking at us enjoying our parade of food.
Tuesday was the best, as we were first up, snagging the table just to the right of the front door. Mysteriously, the line curved around the corner and down Erato instead of the usual, slow-as-the-Mississippi transformation into a semblance of a line down Baronne. Once it got too long everybody was asked to move and reassemble out of the way of the service door, resulting in a massive wave of people swinging around some 270 degrees...more than a few asking about the various dishes strewn about our table.
Seems there was something each day that set Anthony off a bit...the vodka distributor was late, Sysco forgot the celery salt (they had enough to make our Bloody Mary's fortunately), and that just added to the experience. One day the guys in front of me were ordering for a party of 12...dishes by the dozen and half dozen. As they're ringing it up, the guys get their wallets and break out plastic...hmmmm,this could be fun. Fortunately one of their buddies caught it before Anthony was ready for payment and they scrambled a bit to round up $500+. He thanked them for the "nice order".
We got a hearty "welcome back" from John on day 2, and from there on out we had some great repartee, including a nice chat when I saw him wearing a T-shirt from one of my suppliers. (seems a buddy of his owns the screen printing company). He is truly one-of-a-kind in the service biz...moving all that food while moving his jaws to keep the whole thing moving along. I loved it when he shamed me for asking for another fork..."We gave you _one_ already didn't we???"
While most of the crowd seemed to be visitors for Fest, there were plenty of locals standing in line each day to get their last visits in as well. As is so often pointed out, Uglesich's is one of those love-it-or-hate-it places, perhaps the prototype....
So...what about the FOOD?
We didn't get to all the dishes we wanted to try...got caught up on a couple that we kept coming back to. Fortunately we have the cookbook so we can maybe have an idea of what the missed ones were like. Here's the rundown, roughly in descending order of daily order frequency:
Shrimp And Grits - went from sharing an order the first day, to each with their own starting the second day to avoid fork stabbings. Such an unassuming name for an incredible dish. The shrimp were succulent, the grits like a nice polenta cake, and that sauce! Lie me on my back, stick a funnel in my mouth and leave the spigot wide open.
Firecracker Shrimp - the juxtaposition of sweet and hot sauces, both uniquely Uggie, is a real winner. I got carried away on Monday sopping up the sauce and the missus paid me back by snagging the last of my Shrimp And Grits sauce. Now I understand why there are domestic violence issues.
Muddy Water - the wife's favorite (and confirmed as waiter John's fave too), for a couple of days at least. This is just a stupefyingly good dish. Delicious trout, fried up just right, in with a kickbutt sauce coming out of left field. Whodathunk chicken broth, parmesan, anchovies and gutted jalapeño's (the key ingredient) would make such a killer combination?
Fried Oysters (w/ Blue Cheese) - Exquisite. Creaminess, crispiness, mild ocean and bright earth. Could very well be the first recipe we try from the book.
Italiano Catfish...the wife's new fave starting with visit three, and I can see why. The top seafood house in Salt Lake does a parmesan crusted flounder/sole thing that we have always enjoyed. This Uggie's dish leaves it totally in the dirt. Very tasty crispy coating offsetting that creamy catfish thang. I found myself constantly snagging the new potato nuggets fried up in the same coating.
Oyster Shooter - Really interesting preparation including cane syrup and sundried tomato (excellent foil as it turns out). Wife declared them as good as Drago's charbroiled. I will not get into that argument, at least not with her.
Super Slaw - loved it, despite the bell pepper slivers we removed. A mix of cabbage and lettuce in a tangy creole mustard dressing garnished with chilled shrimp.
Volcano Shrimp - my fave shrimp entree (proclaimed the same by waiter John). Nice Asian twist, plenty of spice. Noodles were far from al dente, but since when has Uggie's been about trendiness?
Shrimp Uggie - avoided it before because we abhor bell peppers, but being a heat freak I had to try it at least once. Only had to fish out one strip of the nasty green veggie. Very tasty, nice heat, but I much preferred the Volcano preparation. I recall someone complaining about the sauce being greasy. The shrimp are marinated in vegetable oil, and I sopped up every last drop with bread. Deelish. To each his own.
Softshell Crab - got a plate on day one. Not only was it excellent, but turns out Denise likes the damned things. She's always had a problem with the carapace concept ever since I ordered amaebi the first time we had sushi together. Turns out it must just be the eyeball thing...she tried a claw, cautiously tried a chunk from the body and was hooked.
Potato Salad - came with the above plate. Really good, but probably the least noteworthy we tried. Smoother, mashed potatoey consistency, mildly flavored with creole mustard and some mince dill it seems. The Super Slaw is the side to go with.
Eggplant Casserole - yummy if a bit mild, bits of crustacean made for a nice contrast to the casserole consistency.
Fried Green Tomatoes w/Shrimp Remoulade - our Monday lunch guest ordered them, never having tried the dish or the restaurant. He absolutely loved them, and I've about got him convinced to check out the other variations around town.
And let us not forget those AMAZING Bloody Mary's (should have been at the top of the list for order quantity!) Half the fun of standing in line waiting to order is watching Miss Gail methodically preparing the lineup of cocktails. We've decided it's their horseradish sauce that makes it...don't know if it's a brand or homemade, but the Uggie's Bloody will forever be our standard against which all others are judged.
Overall an amazing experience...they crank out high caliber food at high caliber volume with surprising consistency, in an atmosphere that will never be duplicated. It's not inexpensive, especially when you have to fly there to eat, but it is a dining experience unlike any other, and that makes it worth it for us.
Here's hoping Anthony gets sick of retirement in time to get full use out of next year's liquor license!