I don’t need any more reasons to eat. I really don’t. I love food. Food has done bad things to me in the past. Sickeningly unhealthy things. Just when I’ve got things under control, along comes something new and fresh. Along comes Ulysses American Gastropub, located in an unassuming strip mall at the intersection of Marsh and Silverside Roads in North Wilmington. Owners Steve and Michael Lucey have already found success in Wilmington’s Dead Presidents (which was sold several years ago) and their other restaurant, Hockessin’s Six Paupers. They’ve got quite an ace working the magic here. Former Chelsea Tavern chef Sean McNeice is in charge of the culinary delights and on quite a few counts he delivers.
At first glance of the menu, the influences from some of the aforementioned eateries is clear. The popular Chicken Nixon from Dead Presidents has made its way onto the menu. And a decadently (and disgustingly delicious) burger from Chelsea Tavern has crept in, as well. More on that later.
We entered the gorgeously remodeled restaurant (hard to believe this used to be a California Video, one of my old turn-of-the-millennium haunts), which features a bar up front with what looked like about two dozen beers on tap. For a Sunday night, business was quite steady, a good sign. We were seated in a comfy booth and a cheerful waitress arrived promptly to take our drink order. Just iced tea. It was a school night. Our goal with this meal was to go for broke; eat as much as humanly possible without having to be carted out by wheelbarrow. And we accomplished that.
We started with the pork belly pierogies ($8) and the shrimp and grits ($9). The pierogies were somewhat of a disappointment. The pierogies themselves were very nicely pan-fried with a perfect crisp that showed no evidence of greasiness. The dough and the filling inside, though, were terribly under seasoned. However, the gorgeously brown apple sauerkraut on which the pierogies sat was perfection. Great balance of acidic and sweet to play with the richness of the pierogi. The shrimp and grits were another story. Both components worked spectacularly. The boldly seasoned jumbo shrimp sat atop a cheesy wedge of pan-fried grits. The grits were brown and crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. A bit of ingenuity on our part led us to pour the leftover spicy brown butter sauce atop the last lonely, under seasoned pierogi and that solved the issue and made the pierogi infinitely tastier!
We continued the meal with an exotic mushroom pizza ($13). The crust was perfectly crisp. Not too thick and not cracker thin. A nice sampling of mushrooms, as well as some pungently delicious gorgonzola cheese made this one a flavorful winner. My only gripe was I felt the chef was perhaps a bit too heavy with the toppings, as the ratio of topping-to-crust was fairly high.
As a big fan of mussels, I was happy to see a restaurant finally embrace a hope-to-be trends: moules frites! In French, that’s “mussels and fries.” Ulysses has many boldly-flavored mussel pot possibilities, but we went with the subtlest choice, Belgian white and Dijon cream ($16). The mussels arrived bathed in a “beer cream” in a rather large (too large, we thought) pot. I don’t know if the chef would call it a beer cream, but that’s what I’m calling it. The mussels were cooked nicely, fat and plump and tender. The fries, too, were a big hit. Nicely crisped on the outside and tender on the inside. Belgian style, no doubt! The aioli provided for dipping was fine, but I found myself dredging the fries in that addictive beer cream in which the mussels sat.
For our mains, we split an entrée and a burger. The entrée we ordered was the pan roasted duck breast ($20). We thought the duck was just fine. The fat from the skin could have been rendered and crisped a little better, but it was cooked nicely on the inside and had good flavor. The sweet potato hash on which the breast sat, however, was superb. Included in the hash was some nicely bitter broccoli rapini that contrasted nicely with pickled cherries.
The most obscenely decadent item of the night, though, was something that would send any cardiologist into a panicked tizzy. Ulysses should require individuals to sign a release before gorging on the Mile High Burger ($14), one of the items I immediately recognized from Chelsea Tavern, but never had the courage to try at Chelsea. For posterity’s sake, though, we decided we had to order it. Though we didn’t finish the whole thing, I could appreciate and respect and bow down to this beastly burger that featured a burger cooked medium, which was then beer battered and deep fried. Yes, a deep-fried hamburger. But it wasn’t over there. The burger was topped with Cheddar and a split link of grilled bratwurst. A fried egg and Dijon mustard relaxed on the top half of the bun, while sauerkraut lay on the bottom. We didn’t even attempt to eat the bun thanks to all that had come before. We attacked the burger with a careful hesitation. I consumed more than my friend, but then I’m the one writing the review and felt totally duty-bound! To me, the burger was a hit, though my friend looked ready to fall into a coma at that point. My only quibble was the fried egg, which was cooked a bit too hard. I was hoping it would have had a bit more unctuous runniness.
We finished the meal with the Stout Float ($5) and fried cinnamon ice cream ($5), both excellent caps to a gluttonous meal. However, by that time, my ability to render serious criticism for the dessert was practically non-existent. I felt uncomfortable and my friend referred to a brick in his stomach.
Ulysses American Gastropub will get a revisit from me. If only because the Meat and Potato Nachos, Bacon Meatballs, Braised Short Rib Mac N Cheese, and Bourbon Bacon Brownie sound so darn irresistible.