Union Pub: good grub; wings, too

'Cheffed up' comfort food and bar fare in the mix at St. Philip's Plaza spot
2012-02-09T00:00:00Z 2014-07-22T11:22:57Z Union Pub: good grub; wings, tooTom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

I retract what I said in the first installment of this occasional "fancy pub grub" series about them being places where you can pair good beer and great food from a menu that excludes chicken wings and jalapeno poppers.

Union Public House has wings.

It also has pickled vegetables, which pleased me to no end because I'm old enough to remember when jars of pickled items - from eggs to sausages - were about all you would find at the neighborhood bar.

This, however, is not that neighborhood bar of yore. It is considerably larger and more stylish, though still friendly - a place where everybody might know your name if you hadn't come during Gem Show week when it was packed with strangers even on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Good news. It has the staff and the space to handle a crowd. On both visits, we were greeted and shown to a table immediately, and served quickly by black-clad waitpersons who weren't too rushed to explain our extensive menu options.

My wife Ginny and I chose the long, covered porch on the east side of the former Acacia restaurant for our "social hour" meal, because it seemed a bit too noisy inside and because it was a gorgeous late-January evening in Tucson.

We started with two appetizers: Cheesy Tots ($6) and Short Rib Potstickers ($8). Because it was "Social Hour" - 4 to 7 p.m. - we paid $2 less for each item. We also got a break on the beers.

The tots were reminiscent of the "papas bravas" you might find at a Spanish tapas joint. The cheese sauce needed a little kick. We asked for Tabasco and the waitress brought the "proprietary" house-made wing sauce - perfect.

The wrapping on the potstickers was nicely done and nicely sauteed. The meat stuffing was tender and flavorful, but could have used a little onion or something.

We then shared a salad and a pizza-like flatbread concoction.

The Union Craft Salad ($9) was a buck cheaper because of the time of day and came with those pickled vegetables, jalapeños, olives, salami, young lettuces and cabernet vinaigrette.

The vegetables - cauliflower florettes, squash and baby bell papers - were yummy. Ginny, whose fresh pickle recipe is in the Community Gardens of Tucson cookbook, liked them and pretended to divide them evenly.

It featured good, fresh greens and a nice, light dressing. I don't think you'd go wrong with any of the five salad options.

We paid $2 extra for the gluten-free version of the flatbread and I regretted the decision after seeing the glutinous version delivered to a neighboring table. It looked crisp and crackery. Ours was a bit chewy but the toppings were good. We ordered the "goat" ($9, and one of five available) with prosciutto, crimini mushrooms, shaved garlic, arugula and fresh thyme juice - a nice combination.

Grant Krueger, co-owner, said his housemade flatbread is the "superior" crust. The gluten-free version is not made in-house.

For my second visit, I took my son, Zach, and we braved the noise inside because, after all, what do guys have to talk about?

It wasn't that bad. We're both fairly soft-spoken and we understood each other across the table. Zach noted that the noise seemed to subside when they cut off the canned music for the piano jazz player.

We immediately ordered beers, pretzels ($4.50) and Shrimp and Grits ($12).

Pretzels seem to be a staple of fancy pub grub. These were great - epistyle loaves, nicely browned and crisp on the outside with rock salt and a warm, doughy interior, served with stone-ground mustard and a light cheese sauce.

The two large shrimp were wrapped in prosciutto before grilling and each served atop a fried tomato and a cheese-and-herb-flavored patty of fried grits. It was an interesting and delicious combination.

For entrees, I ordered the Pot Pie ($12.50) and Zach the Parpadelle ($15).

The Parpadelle - flat ribbons of pasta - came with a generous serving of shrimp and was covered in a tomato broth, flavored with basil, shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes. Be warned, it had the punch of an Italian arrabbiata sauce. Good news to us, maybe not so much for anyone with a more sensitive stomach.

The pot pie was gorgeous. Care had been taken to brown the top to perfection. It had generous portions of chicken, peas, potato and bacon in a "leek crema," but all-in-all, just a pot pie.

Krueger said his goal is to serve "cheffed-up American comfort food" in a fashion that lends itself to communal eating. The dishes and the punch-bowl drinks are meant to be shared.

He doesn't use, and doesn't like the term "gastropub." It reminds him of gastric juices and gastro-intestinal what have you.

Union has 30 beers and 16 wines on tap, in addition to an extensive selection of bottled beers and wines that range from $25 to $125.

On my Thursday visit, I had a double-bock from Italian giant Birra Moretti that I had never come across in bottles. It was light enough for my lager-inclined palate, but dark and flavorful at the same time.

Zach had a milk stout with the appetizers. He liked it; I find stouts a bit cloying.

For dinner, we celebrated the Centennial month with Arizona beers. I went with a red ale from Flagstaff's Lumberyard Brewing Company and Zach had a nut brown from Oak Creek Brewery in Sedona.

The draft beers range from $4 to $7, but cost only $4 from 4-to-7 p.m. and after 10 p.m. Wine is $5 a glass during those times.

On the previous visit, Ginny was persuaded to try a bartender's concoction, which mixed coffee- and vanilla-infused beers. She liked it. I found it "interesting," but then I don't like flavored beers.

I ordered a Lagunitas IPA and enjoyed it thoroughly, though I knew I would.

There are a lot of familiar beers on the menu. Full Sail, Fat Tire, Kilt Lifter - that kind of thing. But they are good beers and it's fun to find them on tap.

Krueger finds himself needing to be all things to all people. He has a lot of pricey real estate to fill.

As a result, the menu runs the gamut from $6 kids' meals complete with dessert to $45 glasses of 25-year-old Scotch and $22 Cohiba cigars that can be smoked on the south porch sofas.

You can get good beers and tasty snacks fairly cheap or you can run up a tab that cuts into the inheritance.

About those wings: I didn't try them. I have the same aversion to eating wings in public as I do Cheetos. Orange fingers and cheeks are particularly unattractive.

Review

• Union Public House, St. Philip's Plaza, 4340 N. Campbell Ave., 329-8575.

• Daily hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Social Hour: 4 to 7 p.m.; Dinner: 4 to 10 p.m.; Late Night: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

• Noise level: A bit of a din inside; quieter on the porch.

• Vegetarian options: Plenty, and a gluten-free option for the flatbread concoctions.

• Drink list: Extensive beer and wine list, both draft and bottled. Specialty cocktails, punch bowls, premium whiskeys, brandies and "adult milk shakes."

• Family call: Kids are welcomed with a special $6 menu.

• Reservations: None accepted.

• Price range: Entrees range from $11 to $27, with plenty of lower-priced snack options.

• Et cetera: The south porch has comfy chairs for whiskey-sipping cigar smokers.

The pub-grub tour continues. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, contact Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate
Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals, offers & events

View more...

Featured businesses

View more...