Saturday, November 03, 2012

Union Local 613: Some Hits and Misses

Avoiding the mistake I made last time I tried dining at Union Local 613, I called in and made a reservation for an early dinner. Union is being talked about all over the Ottawa and the interwebs. I thought it was intriguing to try some Southern food and, more specifically, fried chicken which is sous vide beforehand. My only previous sample of Southern fried chicken was at Jean Alberts earlier this year.

We were guided to a table towards the back of the restaurant and given the clipboard menus. Their non-alcoholic beverage options ($3 each) looked good: Cola, Earl Grey soda, sweet tea, hibiscus punch, raspberry lemonade and finally a mint, basil and cucumber drink all made in house. Lucy and Jimmy both settled on the sweet tea. I decided to give their Earl Grey soda a try.

The Earl Grey soda was refreshing. It reminded me of a pitcher of tea with oranges we made a couple of years ago (no idea why we didn't make it this year). I enjoyed how the drink wasn't too carbonated too. I'd order this again.



The knowledgeable waitress gave us some boiled peanuts while we waited for our mains to arrive. She explained that the peanuts were soaked and then boiled in salted water to get the texture. I had trouble cracking open the soft peanut shells, but when I did, I popped out super tender salt-boiled peanuts. The peanuts brought back memories of the past. I remember we used to have boiled peanuts like this when we were younger. To Jimmy, the boiled peanuts was reminiscent of the peanuts he ate in Taiwan.

I ordered the 2-piece yardbird ($11) with a side of cheddar and roasted garlic hominy grits ($5). Our waitress explained that there weren't any sides included in the mains. Also, because the chicken was sous vide, she told me not to be alarmed if the meat and bone was pink. My two pieces of chicken consisted of a chicken breast with a wing attached, as well as, a drumstick. I tackled the drumstick first.

The thin, but crisp, coating on the chicken was something I wasn't expecting. I was thinking of the typical flour batter, but they dredged the chicken in a mix of flour and cornmeal. The meat was super tender and juicy. I made sure the juices ran clear, despite the waitress' explanation of what to expect with the chicken. There was something in the seasoning of the chicken that through me off. It reminded me of Indian cooking and Mongolian hot pot, and then it clicked - there was cumin. Cayenne pepper comes to mind when I think about Southern cooking, not cumin.

After the drumstick was finished, I turned my attention to the white meat. I was disappointed at the moistness (or lack thereof) of the white meat. I tried to use the provided hot sauce to liven the chicken up, but it didn't work. The hot sauce was plain and didn't have any personality. Looking back, I should've started with the white meat instead of the drumstick.

As for the roasted garlic hominy grits, they were creamy and comforting. It took me a couple of bites to wrap my head around the grits. At first, it tasted like mac and cheese. But it wasn't macaroni, it was like small diced potatoes or something. But they weren't potatoes at all. They were corn! Whaaaa?

Lucy settled on the special of the night: pork schnitzel with apple butter and sun chokes ($25). She got a side of brussels sprouts, leeks, tasso (ham) and chilli ($5.50). I'll let her fill in the blanks on her and Jimmy's opinion.

From what I tried:
- lots going on.. in a good way
- balsamic vinegar? sweet balsamic vinegar? apple butter? whatever it was, it was tasty

Lucy's comments (in purple for the rest of the post):

The schnitzel wasn't pounded crazy thin, like I prefer, but the chef knew what he was doing.  The thick slab of pork remained juicy, even when I polished off the leftovers the next day.  I can't remember much about the breading or the chopped veggies and herbs on top - only that it tasted fresh and bright (likely from the cilantro and parsley).  The apple butter was smooth and sweet, providing a nice balance to the meaty schnitzel.  I particularly enjoyed the sunchokes, which provided a great textural contrast to the soft pork.  I would return for this dish, which was the feature of the night.

The brussel sprouts were lightly grilled and maintained their bite.  It was a little bland on its own, but when eaten together with the mains, the flavours popped.  They were pretty good, but didn't blow my mind.  I didn't notice the chilli peppers at all.

Jimmy got the fried rice white shrimp, smoked rabbit and sausage gumbo ($20) with a side of fingerling potatoes, cauliflower, and bacon hash ($6).

From what I tried:
- too salty
- flavours were muted

The gumbo was an almost winner for me.  Though no one else felt it, I thought the spice level was nice.  I did choke on my first bite (since I'm a big baby when it comes to spicy food).  It was a good change in flavours and textures when switching between my schnitzel and his gumbo. It was definitely saltier than I prefer, but when eaten with the brussel sprouts or the hash, it brought balanced to the flavours.  The next day, we reheated the gumbo with another bowl of steamed rice, and it tempered the salinity well. 

Jimmy complained that the hash was too bland, and I had to agree.  The crunchy cauliflower was the highlight of the side. 
We were all too full to try their desserts and we didn't even finish our entire meal. No problem, we took home the leftovers to enjoy at a later date.
I'd return to Union Local 613 to try their other dishes, but I wasn't very impressed with the fried chicken and salty gumbo. Their earl grey soda and schnitzel were good though. It just didn't live up to the hype for us. While the local chefs may enjoy a bite here after they close up their own shops, it just wasn't our favourite.

I'd say that the prices appeared reasonable, until you realize that you have to factor in the price of the side dishes.  For a place that has a casual, low-key feel, I wasn't happy that I was paying regular restaurant prices.  I didn't see why the fried chicken was so highly hyped (I must admit that enjoy KFC from time to time), and while I appreciated the ambiance, the prices didn't seem to match.  I may return next year as the restaurant will probably change quite a bit by then.  Until then, it's not on my highly recommended list.


Union Local 613
315 Somerset St W
Ottawa, ON
Union Local 613 on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this review and the photos, its very helpful. I was wondering about this restaurant you gave me some ideas now and a better appreciation of what to expect.


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