Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Union Kitchen on Bellaire Blvd... Burger Porn

Union Burger

"I like it when I find a restaurant that pro-actively seeks out Texas (local) ingredients."

A PR photo I saw of Union Kitchen's Union Burger enticed us to visit this casual Bellaire-area eatery for a weekday lunch during their “March Colossal Burger Festival” promotion... then we returned on Sunday morning for a brunch, where we also tried a couple of items on their new menu.  Food writing (and certainly food photography from bloggers) is cyclical and the last few months have brought about a flurry of photography of burgers as if in an organized campaign to document the phenomenon of serious beef sandwiches that cannot be eaten without the help of flatware to adjust the size into something that can be eaten in public with gentility.

The flagship offering of the “March Colossal Burger Festival” promotion is the Union Burger.  It’s served on a whole wheat bun with apple smoked bacon, mixed greens and tomato... with cheddar and Swiss cheese. ...  the well-dressed Certified Angus Beef (Texas) burger boasts a one-half pound “patty” that I ordered medium rare. There was just enough fat in the relatively lean burger to reinforce the necessity to use a knife and fork to manage the meal...  and as if an effort to point out that this is serious meat... and you will need help, there is a steak knife stabbed in the center of the burger that says “You’re gonna need this.”  And since the knife is there rising from the center of the presentation, they stack three thick crisp onion rings around the blade to get the maximum utility from it.  As I ate this benevolent monster with a knife and fork, it WAS pointed out to me that most diners actually pick the thing up to eat it.
Grilled Ahi Tuna Burger

Not all burgers are made with beef and not all participants in this promotion are made with beef, so we tried the Grilled Ahi Tuna Burger, served with Wasabi Mayo, JalapeƱo, English Cucumber and Fresh Cilantro.  It was served “grilled rare” like a lumber jack’s sashimi and was as satisfying as the beef.  The Wasabi Mayonaise was key in making the sandwich memorable.
Crab Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp

On our second visit, we ordered Crab Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp from the new menu.  Served over avocado and pico de gallo couscous, it was drizzled with a Chipotle lime cream sauce.  The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the sauce really complemented the shrimp/crab combination.  I definitely would order this one again.  
Green Eggs and Ham

Over the two visits, we tried three different egg-centric dishes and the first was a tip of the hat to Dr. Seuss and St. Patrick’s Day in the same dish. Green Eggs and Ham showed a respect for the eggs and they were perfectly poached, then topped with a fresh local basil pesto (hence, very green). The eggs were served over a beefsteak tomato and a slab of hickory smoked ham on English muffins and were a creative alternative to Eggs Benedict. 
Texas Blue Crab Cake Benedict

Speaking of Eggs Benedict (which they also serve)...  another alternative to that classic brunch staple at Union Kitchen is a couple of (again) perfectly cooked poached eggs atop two almost-filler-free Texas Blue Crab Cake Benedict, then drenched with Hollandaise (I say “drenched” because there is actually enough of it to make me happy). It’s unusual to see a crab cake so well prepared and crabby in a dish in which it might be easy to hide a less-than-perfect product, but the crab cakes were really nice and were nicely paired with the lemony Hollandaise.

The only disappointment in our Sunday brunch might have been rectified, had we sent back a Ponder’s Omelet for a redo, but we were full and out of time.  Texas Goat Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes, Spinach and Herbs in an omelet sounded like it could be heaven, but the eggs were overcooked and slightly brown (on the inside of the fold) and the sundried tomatoes, spinach and herbs were loosely tucked inside and were dry. Creative and more generous use of the goat cheese might have saved the filling, but alas, that wasn’t the case and the omelet went largely uneaten.  As far as the Ponder’s Omelet was concerned, I pondered not mentioning it, as they do so many things right here, but what if that had been the only thing I had ordered?

Union Kitchen has an extensive and very creative menu and frankly, I was surprised by its depth.  Steaks, Chops, seafood, brick oven pizzas and a section they call “small plates” which could easily qualify as tapas dishes OR appetizers round out an interesting menu that I plan to find out more about in the future.
By the way, we were there for brunch shortly after 10:00 Sunday morning, so it was a little early for Bloody Marys (at OUR table... but not the case later for many other parties dining there), but had we been prone to drink at that hour, a Bloody Mary Bar was tantamount to a small salad bar and was stocked with more sauces, juices, long veggie stir sticks and interesting condiments than I could ever imagine going into a Bloody Mary. Building your own drink like that is similar to a build-it-yourself hamburger... if you don’t like it, there’s no one to blame but yourself.

I like it when I find a restaurant that pro-actively seeks out Texas (local) ingredients.  I also like it when the chefs shop at local farmers markets for produce, as Chef Juan Arellano does for Union Kitchen... and they don’t wear it as a "badge of honor" to attract customers... it’s just what they do.  So you WILL see Chef Juan at Eastside Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning... and you WILL eat that produce if you dine at Union Kitchen that night.  Owner, Paul Miller, wants it that way.
Union Kitchen
Bellaire Location
4057 Bellaire Blvd.
 Houston, TX 77025
 (713) 661-0025

Memorial Location (Opening Soon... Check Website)
12538 Memorial Dr.
Houston, TX 77024
 info@theunionkitchen.com

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