Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Toast to my Hometown's Better (and Newer) Eateries - Union: Local 613

I sometimes think that I was born under the astrological sign of "Lucky-ass Foodie" (with it's cusp in Venus of somesuch silliness). It was just a random Tuesday (that I happened to have off work) when I got an email from Kari showing that there's a new restaurant in town with some pretty intriguing menu choices direction. At least their Web site made it seem that way.

That restaurant is Union 613 and we just happened to show up on opening night, July 17. Their "vision" is "an Ottawa take on Southern hospitality" with a lot of interesting-looking takes on some of my favourite food. If you can get Southern food right, you'll make me a happy man!

The paint's barely dry!

Now, there was talk of the place being mainly "communal seating", but Kari and I were given a booth to ourselves. Admittedly it was pretty late on a school night, so the place had died down somewhat. But there was still a good crowd and you could see the owners were still feeling some opening night pressure.

Luckily, our server didn't seem too affected. He was a really friendly guy who took very good care of us. I'll be damned if a month later I can remember his name.

The decor was pretty cool with a lot of old pipes and an oddly industrial-yet-homey aesthetic. The drink-in-mason-jars was a nice touch too... But what mattered most, as with all restaurants I eat in, was the food.

 Mason jar of beer = claaaaaaassy!

Well, as a kind of complimentary starter, they provide you with a small dish of Boiled Peanuts. Basically, imagine your standard peanut in the shell, boiled. They're tasty, but a little weird in texture.

As we snacked on the nuts, we perused the menu. It's one of those ever-changing menus, so don't let the Web site fool you. There's a good chance what they have listed on there might be different from one night to the next. That being said, I'm sure there'll be some items that stay on all the time, like their "Yard Bird" (more on that later). The menu's divided into Snacks, Appetizers, Mains and Sides, but how they served it was the Snacks and/or Appetizers first, then everything else at once on a giant platter (actually, a baking sheet lined with butcher paper, which was kind of awesome).

So, first off was our Snack, and I couldn't freaking believe one of the items that was on the menu. If you've ever owned a dog, you know that Pig Ears are a treat for your pooch. So why they're on the menu of a hip new resto? Beats me, but you can bet your arse I was trying them! They came with a homemade Thousand Island Dressing that was super-tasty (lots of relish or pickles in it) and were AMAZING! Basically they had the flavour profile of bacon, but with a bit more crackle and firmness in the bite, almost like a potato chip. They were devoured in less than 5 minutes...

Pig Ears! Not just for dogs any more!

Next was time to order our Mains and Sides. Since we were sharing, Kari and I had to figure it all out together. There were a couple of sides we each insisted on getting (her the Cheddar and Roasted Garlic Grits, me the Lobster Macaroni Salad). We also figured we should get the Cornbread, because, well, Cornbread is kind of super-awesome goodness! And it came with Bourbon Brown Butter!As for the Mains, we decided we needed to try the "Yard Bird" (which is a Southern/Soul Food term for chicken, in this case, Fried Chicken) which comes with their in-house Pepper Vinegar. We weren't sure what else to try but they had a nightly pork special (Tenderloin cut in medallions with Tomato Gravy, I believe, but don't quote me on that) so we gave that a shot.

So how was it all? Well, there were some highlights and some disappointments. The Macaroni Salad was oddly disappointing in that it tasted EXACTLY like the Macaroni Salad we'd get with a bucket of KFC back in 1983, but with chunks of lobster in it (which itself was succulent). If that's what the chef was aiming for, he got it spot on. I personally was hoping for something more unique. The "Pork du jour" was slightly disappointing in that it had a bit of an overcharred quality on the outside (the inside, however, was moist and perfect) and it was WAY overpriced (20$ for three small-sized pieces). The Tomato Gravy that topped it was really good though. The Grits were good, but not my favourite. I found them a bit heavy. Kari, on the other hand, was in love, so it was a good choice. The Yard Bird was EXCELLENT! Moist and flavourful on the inside, crunchy and sizzling on the outside and not drowning in its own seasoning. Basically the way Fried Chicken should be. It came with the Pepper Vinegar, which was basically a better tasting ode to traditional Tabasco Sauce. The combination was pure Soul Food heaven. But what I enjoyed the most by far (well, after the Pig Ears) was the Corn Bread. The Bourbon Brown Butter on top helped it achieve a kind of decadent pudding-like quality. It was rich and delicious and buttery and just pure tastebuds-a-dancin' perfection!

Where to begin!?!? Clockwise from top left: Lobster Macaroni Salad, Cheddar and Roasted Garlic Grits, Cornbread with Bourbon Brown Butter, Pepper Vinegar, Yard Bird, Pork du jour with Tomato Gravy

Union's Pepper Vinegar, a homemade version of Tabasco Sauce

And that was that! The bill was fairly reasonable (just a little bit over 100 dollars for two people, including the food, two drinks each and tip), the food really good and the atmosphere a perfect combination of trendy and welcoming, with a very cool decor. I foresaw good things after this first visit and the subsequent reviews I've read seem to agree. All things considered, the quality of our meal and lack of major boo-boos for opening night demonstrated to me that they have a good thing going at Union 613.

Now I just need to try their lunch!

UPDATE: We went back last night (August 24) and indulged in some Bourbon Lemonade (probably the reason my head hurts today), Devilled Eggs (WITH BACON! GENIUS!) and Chicken Liver Mousse (totally like Grandmaman used to make, but with grilled peaches on the side!). Kari had Beef Brisket for her main and I had their Crawfish Boil (!!!!!). I got about halfway through before tossing in the towel and getting the rest to go... I foresee making a crawfish stock in the future. We also indulged in their Corn Bread (missing the Bourbon Brown Butter, major bummer) and Coleslaw, which was excellent (dill in slaw? Who knew?). The plating was more traditional, with everything coming on its own plate. Whether the "baking sheet" presentation is still around on request, I don't know. I hope so!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nick! Jag here. If you ever decide to do the crawfish stock; you MUST make sure to use whole crawfish as the fat in their heads is essential to get a rich flavor. This is where a great "étouffé" begins! They can be hard to find but Lapointe's said they could order them if notified aHEAD (Sorry; had to). Good luck!