By Nikki Buchanan | Photo by Steven Meckler
The problem with restaurant labels and the cuisines they represent is that both cycle in and out of style as quickly as skinny ties and bell-bottomed pants. So let’s not label Union Public House a gastropub (even though it is one), because this casual-but-classy spot in St. Philip’s Plaza will surely survive the vicissitudes of fashion.
Like all gastros, Union turns the old-fashioned working-class pub into an urban restaurant and watering hole, offering up an industrial vibe, elevated comfort food and decidedly upscale beverages. Its tagline — “Honest food and clever libations served in a stylish atmosphere” — pretty much nails the premise. So while pretzels and beer are on the menu, the pretzel is house-made, sprinkled with sea salt and served with both cheese sauce and stone-ground mustard, and the beer (there are 30 kinds on tap) most likely comes from a local or regional microbrewery.
In fact, “local” is the restaurant’s mantra, which means the tomatoes were grown in Willcox and nearly everything else is made from scratch, including the burger buns and the pucker-inducing, house-brined pickles and vegetables served in a Mason jar.
During social hour (4 to 7 p.m. daily), discounted brews, booze and wines by the glass draw an after-work crowd that bellies up to the gleaming nickel-topped bar to snag craft cocktails (maybe a signature Moscow mule, served in an appropriately frosty copper mug) and watch sports on the overhead TVs. A dinner might be made of crunchy, cheese-melted pub chips or Union’s justifiably famous, ground-in-house burger, topped with English cheddar, pickled onion, arugula and bacon jam.
But the “G” word can be so misleading. With its wood floors, high ceilings and tall paned windows overlooking the plaza, Union is far more charming and inclusive than its label suggests. At night, the wraparound patio offers privacy and an aura of romance to couples who might pop a bottle of bubbly and build an elegant dinner around just-shucked oysters, New York strip and lamb shank. By day, that same patio lures business people and “ladies who lunch” with salads, artisan flatbreads and sandwiches, including a messy but ridiculously good Louie stuffed with Maine lobster and wild shrimp. Sunday means brunch (think mimosas, eggs Benedict and chilaquiles), and every day is family day thanks to a better-than-average kids menu for the kid who has tired of hot dogs and spaghetti.
Although of-the-moment dishes like pork belly with ginger crepes and house-made kimchi (a clever riff on moo shu pork) garner the press, Union does a fine job with straightforward chicken and waffles, potpie, and fish and chips. You might say its stock in trade is uncommonly good food for the common man.