I had the great pleasure of dinning at Union Local 613 in the company of one of the owners’ father; a co-worker of mine. I hope this didn’t bias my visit too much, that we didn’t get too much special treatment, because I had an astounding time and am telling anyone who will listen to go there.
It was another lunch with office friends, but with much better results than last time at Hintonburg Public House.
The best way to start off any good time is with drinks, and Union does apéritifs with all the indulgence and hospitality you could wish for from a restaurant inspired by the comforts of the South.
Served in mason jars, alongside unasked for but welcome water that was perpetually replenished, cocktails are an exciting menu item that showcase that knowledge and creativity of the bar staff. They are Whisky/Bourbon based, so don’t hold out for anything frilly, but don’t shy away from the hard stuff either! You are not going to have to drink it neat and sprout hairy knuckles. It will be yummy, I promise. The menu changes often, but I had the Centennial Sweet Tea (you know my love of sweet tea), and others at my table had Rum Punch and Apple Cider varieties. Everyone said their brew was fantastic.
There was a slight mix up with my drink. I hadn’t realized that “sweat tea” was a non-alcohol beverage option, and was not clear when I ordered that I wanted the cocktail version. When I informed my waitress of the mistake, which was mine, she apologized and told me to hold on to my virgin tea while she fetched me the Whisky one. Before I could take two sips, I had my cocktail in front of me and so enjoyed two beverages with my meal. I thought there would be two possibilities with my bill; 1. I would pay for both drinks, which would be fair as I had consumed them, or maybe 2. I would not be charged for the mistaken virgin sweet tea. Never would I have imagined what actually happened: I was charged $3 for one drink and not at all for the $10 cocktail. Now THAT is what I call good service and southern hospitality. Very impressive Union Local 613, very impressive.
These are peanuts. I thought I hated peanuts because I used to work in an establishment where people ate these and threw the shells on the floor. This isn’t that type of establishment and these are not those kinds of peanuts. These peanuts have been soaked and simmered in brine for hours and served warm, mushy and delectably salty. They are complimentary on the table, as a wonderful alternative to bread.
There were 4 diners to each peanut bowl, so inevitably we reached an awkward moment when there were 2 peanuts left in the dish. We eyed each other -pretending to be thoroughly done with peanuts, we eyed the peanuts -longing to snatch up one of the last morsels of salty nutty goodness; it got tense. Then our waitress came around and promptly placed a full bowl between us, dumped that pair of fateful nuts on top -no need for pretentious wastefulness here- and thereby instantly revived conversation and comradery to the table.
As a main dish I ordered texas shrimp and grits for $14 and it came out sizzling on a skillet. The shrimps were Ocean Wise, which I appreciate, and served with andouille with scallions and cherry tomatoes. This was my first experience with grits and I liked ’em, soft rich and cheesy is always good. The plate was a lot spicier than I was prepared for but the heat was as welcome as that bonus sweet tea was necessary. I was tempted by the side dishes but was happy I abstained. This dish was more than filling enough for someone who frequently skips lunch. I’ve rarely seen a shrimp dish so generous with shrimp.
I failed to get a shot of every plate that was ordered at my table, but this is the pulled alberta brisket sandwich for $13 with a side of fries for $3. It was served on what looks like a tray from a large toaster oven. I am told it was stuffed with blue benedictin (a Canadian blue cheese), horseradish mayo, and oyster mushrooms, and that it was delicious … keep in mind my source may have been blinded by paternal affection, maybe.
The decor is cozy and comfortable with lots of creative elements that keeps you looking around yourself at all the details. The kitchen wall is covered with reclaimed barn wood, left rough and beautiful. There is a tattoo inspired mural across from the bar, which is lined by converted tractor seats from the States. The pipe-and-bottle light fixtures are abundant giving the space a surprising amount of light in a restaurant-scene that is typically far too shadowy. The space, the food, and the demeanour of the service team all seem to chant “come as you are, grab a bite to eat, enjoy a drink, chat with some friends; this is the good stuff of life“.
Needles to say I will be back to enjoy the good stuff.