Your coffee is likely to arrive in a truly tacky mug at The Ugly Mug Diner in downtown Salem. Maybe it’s adorned with the Lucky Charms leprechaun or a tennis-playing flamingo. Even before co-owners Diane Wolf and David Babcock opened for business in the spring of 2014, they started receiving donations of ugly mugs, initially from pedestrians passing by while the diner was under construction, now from loyal customers. “Whenever someone moves or has a yard sale,” says Wolf, “we get the extras.”
If one breaks, no worries. There’s a backup supply of more than 300 waiting to make their appearance. And if you somehow fall in love with the unsightly mug you’re holding, you can take it home for $10 (all sales go to a rotating charity of the month). The co-owners are used to working together. Wolf is also the chef-owner of the nearby Lobster Shanty, where Babcock was a long-term bartender before taking on the role of general manager at the diner.
This self-described “twisted American diner” serves an eclectic breakfast all day (until closing time at 3 p.m.) as well as original takes on traditional lunchtime fare. Duck confit makes an appearance in numerous places on the menu. It joins candied pecans and a bourbon maple syrup reduction atop a waffle in This Ain’t No Chicken & Waffles ($13). On a recent Sunday the confit was paired with wasabi for Today’s Mac Daddy Mac & Cheese. A vegan, black bean burger is finished with avocado for a flavorful, meatless option ($9).
A half-dozen eggs Benedict are listed under “The Benedict Batch” section, which sports a fetching photo of actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Wolf is a self-described “huge fan” of both the actor and the poached egg dish. “It’s like pizza,” she says. “You can do an infinite number of things with a Benedict.” So though there’s a traditional presentation ($9), be a bit adventurous and try Joe’s Fish Prints Dueling Crustaceans ($15) where crab cakes replace the ham and the entire dish is finished with a drizzle of lobster-scented oil, or a version with kielbasa and dill hollandaise. (Pictured: huevos rancheros with black beans, salsa, avocado mousse and poached eggs.)
Fluffy, oversize biscuits are made here. Delicious on their own, they also make a great base for a breakfast “sammich.” Some beautiful dishes are showing up beside the ugly mugs. The Ugly Mug Diner, 122 Washington St., Salem, 978-745-6844, www.uglymugdiner.com