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The Frugal Forager: Ugly Rooster has big breakfasts — and everything else

Sunday, May 27, 2012
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— “Bring it on,” said the girl meeting The Ugly Rooster Cafe pancake challenge. There were cheers throughout the restaurant as two 12-inch pancakes topped with butter and syrup, strawberries and whipped cream were presented. Holy cow, it was big, but she had plenty of moral support.

Mom and I hit The Ugly Rooster in the middle of a rush to find the plastic-covered wood tables pushed together for oversized groups and a waiting list. And it was loud. The broad, high-ceilinged storefront offered plenty of amplification, but it was lively, not oppressive.

It took about 20 minutes to get a table, but the wait was entertaining and we had a place to sit. The staff really ran and kept up with the crowd like they were used to it. Breakfast sides as big as meals flew by and, of course, there was the pancake challenge — if you can eat the two humongous, fruit-topped pancakes within 30 minutes, you get the meal free plus a T-shirt and gift certificate. To date, only one person has managed it.

Folks can serve themselves coffee while they wait for a table. We admired the rooster-centric decor and the souvenir T-shirts.

The Ugly Rooster Cafe

WHERE: 159 North Main St., Mechanicville. 664-2769, uglyroostercafe.com

WHEN: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends

HOW MUCH: $32.17, with tax and tip

MORE INFO: Reservations not accepted. Credit cards: Visa, Master Card, Discover. Parking on-street. Accommodations made for children’s meals. Wheelchair accessible.

Soon enough we were seated. Once the crowd died down, I noticed the radio behind the counter was too loud — I hadn’t even heard it with all the noise.

Friendly prices

Prices are friendly. From 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, you can get two eggs with home fries and toast for two bucks. Omelets like the benedict, stuffed with crab and asparagus and topped with Hollandaise sauce, or French toast with marscapone, orange zest and chocolate shavings are $6.50. I didn’t set out to pick the most expensive thing on the menu, but the Mighty Hudson Black and Blue Salad was still reasonable at $8.50.

Owner Ariel Pagan, a trained pastry chef who comes by way of the Glen Sanders Mansion and Longfellows in Saratoga, opened The Ugly Rooster in July 2009. It’s not fancy, but Pagan is clearly happy cooking what he loves — great big breakfasts, burritos, tacos and quesadillas, and burgers, salads and sandwiches — and it shows.

When the server almost gave us someone else’s fried green tomatoes, I realized that I had made a serious mistake of omission, especially since Mom has never had them. Breaded and fried until golden, they looked and smelled fabulous. Don’t make the same mistake.

Burgers and salads

Mom ordered The Squawker, a big thick hamburger coated in wing sauce and topped with bleu cheese ($6.50) on a toasted hard roll with a side of fries. “How many ounces is this burger?” wondered Mom with her mouth full. Sadly, we’ve had to give up medium-rare burgers but this thick, hand-formed burger cooked just past medium had plenty of flavor. We both approved of the fries.

The Mighty Hudson salad came with a tender, juicy little steak that was far better than I’d expected. It was about 4 or 5 ounces, medium rare, perhaps three-quarters of an inch thick; it wasn’t seasoned but didn’t need it. The mixed greens were impeccable, the bleu cheese chunks hearty, the crumbled bacon crispy and not too salty. I asked for the balsamic vinaigrette on the side, and it came with two plastic cups of dressing, which was way too much. It was all delicious and I ate every bit.

We were seated next to the refrigerated case holding homemade desserts, and even though we were pretty full, had to try something. I’ve paid a lot more in high-end restaurants for chocolate mousse ($3) this good, although the chocolate ganache topping was a bit on the hard side.

Oh, the pie

The banana cream pie ($2.95) elicited words from Mom I thought I’d never hear: “I couldn’t make this,” she said after the first bite. Mom is a two-time Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist and has won big-money recipe contests for national brands like Triscuit, Paul Newman’s products and Chex cereal, and she couldn’t make this?

I had a bite. Wow. This wasn’t pudding with banana slices, it was bananas, but just a little sweeter, with the authentic texture of the mashed fruit. It was far and away the best we’ve ever had. When you go to The Ugly Rooster, don’t skip the dessert.

Our check landed on the basket of breakfast syrup and jelly, amounting to a paltry $32.17 with tax and tip.

And the pancake challenge? Not even close. Only one person has ever finished. And on the way home, Mom vowed to make a banana cream pie as good as the one she just had. I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, support the Ugly Rooster for its great comfort food and good value. You’ll enjoy it.

 
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