Launch dates are always a moving target in the restaurant biz, but partners Joe Callahan Jr. and Kris Serviss of The Blue Duck have finally hit the bullseye.
The Ugly Duckling, a liquor-licensed Center City spinoff of the duo’s popular Northeast Philly BYOB, opens for business at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6., around a year later than originally anticipated.
“We were on the ‘most anticipated openings’ lists for four seasons running!” Serviss observed. A funding issue had cropped up after the lease was signed, he said, making the partners worried they would lose the space. Eventually, Serviss, 31, asked his father for a small investment — “the last thing I wanted to do” — and things began whirring.
Seven o’clock will be The Ugly Duckling’s call time five days a week, with doors opening at 9 a.m. on weekends. The narrow 36-seat space at 212 S. 11th St. — most recently Hummus Grill, now done over with a warm, quirky decor — will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, with the kitchen open through midnight.
“We’re not trying to be a diner, exactly,” said Serviss, “but when I thought about what this area is lacking, that’s one of the things. And Penn and Jefferson are right here.”
The Ugly Duckling menu isn’t quite like a diner’s, but it could definitely be called “diner-inspired.” Serviss is known for his creative takes on American comfort food at The Blue Duck (and its recently opened Avenue of the Arts sibling, Blue Duck on Broad), and he said the recent Dining Car tribute pop-up he hosted was one of the BYOB’s busiest days ever.
More vegetarian and vegan offerings is one of the biggest differences between the Duckling’s menu and the Blue Duck’s, said Mike Gasiewski. The 21-year-old Restaurant School at Walnut Hill grad has been working with Serviss since 2015, and has been named chef de cuisine at the new place. Neuf alum Malik Ali (who, like Serviss, is a Billy Penn Who’s Nexter) will be sous chef.
“We’ll always have hummus of the day, and we made a black bean veggie burger that’s awesome,” said Serviss.
Called “We Ain’t Beefin’, Yo,” the veg burger comes with long hot chimichurri for $11. It’s flanked by some decidedly carnivore options, like the “Dawg” hot dog with cherry pepper relish ($9, with fries), and the “Double Smash Burger” ($12).
Dishes start at $6 (for the “#basic,” a bagel and schmear), and top out at $26, for a chicken-fried duck breast marinated in Sriracha buttermilk. See the full menu here.
At breakfast, a dish called True Grit ($10) brings poached eggs and red-eye coffee gravy over grits made with 1732 Meats jalapeno bacon. The Breakfast Jawn sees duck sausage sandwiched with a fried egg and cheddar cheese on a maple pancake bun for $11, like an upscale McGriddle.
There’s no physical bar — per Serviss, trying to squeeze it into the design always brought the estimate in at $100,000 over-budget — but there is a full slate of booze available. Eventually a small draft beer system will pour rotating brews, but until that’s up and running, there will be beer in cans, plus a list of five classic cocktails (Bloody Marys every day FTW).
The space has been warmed by wide raw pine wainscoting throughout. Tables, which Callahan drove back from Texas in a U-Haul, are topped with glazed ceramic, and the dusky blue walls hold shelfs with various knickknacks and oddities. “We wanted to make it as weird as possible,” Gasiewski said.
General Manager Sierra Cichonski (cousin of Ela chef Jason Cichonski) has been helping decorate the interior, which is filled with items to “make it look like someone’s garage.”
With three restaurants that employ around 70 people, Serviss is only begrudgingly ready to call himself “a restaurateur.” He plans to spend a lot of his time cooking on the line at Blue Duck on Broad, as that is his largest venue, but he plans to bounce regularly between all the spots.
“I don’t ever want to not be around,” Serviss said. “I want my dishwashers to know me, be able to joke with me.” He noted that his intense schedule has “ruined” various romantic relationships, “but I love the Duck. We have so much fun. Why do it if you’re not having fun?”
Note: Although The Ugly Duckling will normally be open seven days a week, it will be closed this Sunday, Sept. 10, so the team can concentrate on a huge pig roast at Blue Duck on Broad to celebrate the Eagles’ season opener (tight end Brent Celek is a partner at that restaurant).