The name, Ugly Duck, originated from chef and co-owner A. J. Swanda’s last name. “It sounds like swan, and I really liked the idea of the ugly duckling growing into the beautiful swan. In this case, I took my dreams of growing Ugly Duck from a pop-up into a restaurant, growing my dream into a reality,” he says.
Ugly Duck existed as a pop-up for nine months, which means A. J. “took over” other people’s restaurants for one day, changing the menu and the style of service each time until he met local restaurateur, Charles Yin. The two became partners transitioning Ugly Duck into a full restaurant.
Charles explains the menu is ramen focused: “It’s what we call our gateway drug. It has a Japanese street food concept. At dinner, we offer a full selection of small plates and other entrées that are all Asian inspired. And at lunch we offer Asian-inspired sandwiches and salads to pair with our ramen.” The restaurant features full table service for both meals as well as a strong wine, sake and beer program.
The two believe in using the best and highest-quality ingredients they can in their food. According to Charles, “Everything in the restaurant has a lot of thought put into it. Nothing is just thrown together. Your standard ramen purveyor is looking for the cheapest bones and the cheapest way to make stock. Here we are using all the higher-end products even for the base of our soups.” The ramen leverages local produce and meats––from the bones to accoutrements––from local producers such as Plum Creek Farms, Truebridge Foods and Nishnabotna Naturals, among others.
A. J. says, “It’s seasonal, so the menu changes often. Whatever farmers have available we pair with different vegetables and proteins and bring it to the ramen.”
Charles says the nice thing about ramen is it has universal interest across demographics. “It’s a melting pot when you look at who comes into the restaurant,” he says.
Ugly Duck, located at 3201 Farnam Street in Midtown Crossing, is open Monday through Thursday from 11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to midnight and Sunday from noon to 8pm. You can find it on Facebook and online at UglyDuckStreetFood.com.
—By Cheril Lee