This Somerset Village address has been home to a good number of good restaurants and the latest one is showing similar promise. Union 613 opened in July in the space vacated by Restaurant Joy. There’s not much of Joy left, though what the Union principals have done with the place (Chef Chris Lord, partners Ivan Fedz and Matthew Fantin) sure makes you smile.
Union specializes in Southern cooking. The dishes are weighty and rich and flavours are full-sized. Service is warm and utterly unpretentious. With the exception of a few deuces at the very front, and a foursome beneath the parlour window, seating is communal at long tables. If your neighbour bores you, there are bookcases groaning under the weight of well-thumbed cookbooks – mostly piggy in focus. The room is packed with whimsy and wall art. Quirky touches abound, in that shabby-chic, exposed-industrial, distressed-woodsy way that seems restaurant de rigueur of late. (The lighting is irresistible.)
Peanuts boiled in brine arrive by way of entertainment. They are marvellous for those who find boiled peanuts in salty, oily water marvellous. Either you get their appeal or you don’t. Ditto the appeal of the deep-fried, tooth-cracking pig ears. Well seasoned is the only compliment they get from me. So for starters, go straight to the tremendously pop-able Deviled eggs, plopped la-dee-da-style on a silver tray strewn with dressed arugula. Or to the fried green tomatoes, lusciously ripe heirloom varietals, cut into wedges and tucked inside crisp brown wrappers on a nubbly swath of sharp pimento cheese studded with bacon – worth dunking and swabbing up to the last smidgeon. The pickled red onion in the side salad of Boston leaves lends a welcome acidity to the dish. Other starter treats include a chilled sweet corn soup of great complexity, fishy with lobster roe, tart with limed-yogurt and sharpened with chilli oil.
The buttermilk brined chicken, so juicy, so crisp, is pretty much perfect, presented – as main dishes here are – on a papered baking sheet crowded with the side orders: minted and lemoned green beans, cast-iron skillet cornbread (yummy, but with a far too-sweet bourbon butter at its centre) and most excellently decadent hominy grits.
The cornmeal-crusted catfish is another house specialty and deserves to be, served with a tangy remoulade. Our other seafood dish was less successful: the Littleneck clams were wacky salty, in a wacky salty broth. A replacement bowl was only a smidge less so.
We barely have space left for desert but are determined to struggle on: our reward is a buttermilk strawberry tart, the delicate custard infused delightfully with lavender and the pastry top notch. Craft beer – lots of local content on tap – is served in mason jars, wine in crystal stems, and if Bourbon’s your drink, or you’d like to explore its southern charms, there’s a strong showing at Union.