The Turkish grill on Wabash

Grilled wings immersed in a special in-house marinade, cooked over an opened flame, and topped fresh with a blend of Turkish seasonings. Served with a jasmine white rice pilaf, a chilled onion salad, and a grilled tomato and jalapeño pepper

Ugly Restaurant and Bar, a welcome addition to Springfield’s ethnic eateries

By Thomas C. Pavlik, Jr.

With a name like Ugly Restaurant and Bar, you had better have some good food and good service. Thankfully, Ugly Restaurant delivers. Ugly Restaurant is a Turkish grill. Your first thought may be kabobs, but there’s a lot more to Turkish food than that, as my guest and I found out.

Ugly Restaurant is in a strip center on Wabash in Springfield. I’ve been fortunate to have been to Turkey, and while the space doesn’t resemble a Turkish grill, they still did a nice buildout. It’s clean and minimalist, in a good way. Although the kitchen is partially open for viewing, it would have been nice to see the cooks at work. Long and narrow, it reminded me of the typical bowling alley Chicago bar.

We arrived just as Ugly Restaurant was opening for the day and were the first diners. As we progressed through our meal it was clear that others had heard of Ugly Restaurant, because a steady stream of patrons streamed in, including several that we knew. It also seemed to be doing a nice takeout business.

Ugly Restaurant has a dedicated lunch and breakfast menu, as well as a separate dinner menu. Prices vary quite a bit between the lunch and main menu, as do portion sizes. If ordering off the main menu, the prices can be high for lunch ($23-$34) while the lunch menu is more reasonably priced ($13-$17). In addition to the typical offerings, one would expect from a Turkish grill, there are a variety of soups, salads and burgers/sandwiches. There is also a separate vegetarian menu. Although we went with more common dishes, we were tempted by the manti ($15 – dumplings stuffed with spiced meat and onions, topped with tomato sauce and a garlic yogurt) and the beef guvec ($34 – ribeye, tomato, mushrooms, onion and garlic baked in a clay pot and served with rice pilaf and onion salad).

I’m probably going to insult someone here, but Turkish food and Greek food share some similarities – bright flavors, lots of spices and lots of vegetables. Where they differ is in the spices used (for Turkish food, think coriander, sumac, mint, cloves and rosemary) and the strong presence of bread, most typically a thin and crispy pita-like bread called lavash that puffs up while being cooked. Trust me, it’s good.

We decided to start with an order of the falafel ($9 – ground chickpeas and seasoning that are formed into balls and deep-fried) and the baba ganoush ($11 – crushed and grilled eggplant combined with tahini, olive oil and garlic). The falafel, which was served with a fiery pepper sauce, was excellent. So, too, with the baba ganoush. Each was served with a side of lavash that complimented each dish. We were not very adventurous with our main orders. I went with the lunch doner ($15 – sliced lamb and beef wrapped in lavash with lettuce, tomato, pickles and homemade tomato sauce) and the beef shish kabob ($28 – grilled skewers of ribeye, served with rice pilaf, onion salad, grilled tomatoes and jalapeño peppers).

Each dish was served with a freakishly addicting onion salad. This bright and vibrant salad is made of thinly sliced onions tossed with sumac, parsley and lemon juice. The tart sumac and savory onions combined to make a bright and crunchy accompaniment to our meat-centric entrees.

Doner is made with layers of beef and lamb (or sometimes chicken) that are stacked on top of each other on a vertical rotisserie. It’s a classic Turkish street food that resembles a gyro, but with some delicious and earthy meat and crispy vegetables that were hit with a light dusting of tomato sauce. The cumin, smoked paprika and Aleppo pepper were not overwhelmed by the tomato sauce and went a long way toward offsetting the richness of the lamb and beef. It was a delicious, if somewhat messy, meal.

My guest appreciated his kabobs. The beef was reported as tender, well flavored with a variety of spices, and not overcooked. The grilled tomatoes and jalapenos had a nice char and cook on them that accentuated their flavors. The meat and veggies are best eaten with the lavash that accompanies the dish. It was definitely a dinner-sized dish. It might have been too much for me, so I would have liked to see a smaller portion available on the lunch menu. I did manage to grab a bite and it equaled similar dishes that I had tried in Turkey and the Mediterranean. I didn’t taste the rice pilaf (which was, in the traditional manner, served on a separate plate), but my guest enjoyed it and thought that it was made with oil rather than butter, which made it a lighter dish more appropriate for a hot summer day.

Ugly Bar and Restaurant is a welcome addition to the increasing list of ethnic eateries in Springfield. Make sure to give it a shot and let us know what you think.


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