When last we checked in with the team behind Lardon, the charcuterie-focused restaurant had just opened and was filling its in-house curing cave with a variety of meats. It’s been a wild six months since then – the restaurant made it onto our Best New Restaurants list and was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand; now the team has opened a sister restaurant. Union, located in the same building as Lardon, is the original restaurant’s beer-focused cousin, featuring an expanded menu but the same culinary ethos as the original.
When I last spoke to owner Steve Lewis and chef Chris Thompson, they were planning to bring elevated dinner dishes to Lardon as the restaurant matured. While the dishes were well received, it made more sense to give Thompson’s cooking yet another place to shine. “Our focus is to have Union be the dominant presence in the evening,” explains Lewis. While Lardon can handle the all-day dining crowd, Union is the spot for an after-work dinner or a date night.
While Union has extensive and well-curated beer and whiskey lists, Lewis and Thompson worked hard to make sure that it was not just another bar with some food. “We didn’t want a fine dining spot, we didn’t want a pub – we wanted something in between,” says Lewis. Thompson agrees: “There’s nothing ordinary about our menu. It has some echoes of what you would think of a place with 24 drafts, but also something that a culinary destination would have.”
Unsurprisingly from a team that makes everything from scratch, even seemingly simple appetizers at Union are the product of some serious work. Take a classic (and delicious) bar snack – a stuffed fried olive. Thompson’s take on the dish is a three-day process. “Mortadella is emulsified and braised and sliced and ground; the olives are pitted and stuffed and breaded,” he says. And of course, everything is made in-house from the whole pigs that arrive regularly at the restaurant. The pimento cheese (another bar staple) is combined with salumi from the cave at Lardon, then served with housemade crackers. “Everything has a little more love,” laughs Thompson.
This craft ethos doesn’t just mean that the menu has some fancy cachet; it also helps keep Union more affordable, especially in a time of inflation and increased costs across the board for restaurants. By doing all of its butchering in-house, Union keeps its entrees affordable; all of the extra bits go into the charcuterie cave to be turned into sandwiches at Lardon. “We have to be very crafty,” explains Thompson. “In this post-COVID moment, everything is hard; but guest demands haven’t changed.”
While the menu may be elevated, the beer list is still a key part of Union’s appeal. Managed by Lewis, the beer program at Union is focused on what the neighborhood wants right now. “We have a ton of sour beers, funky beers. We’ve seen the neighborhood gravitate to those,” says Lewis. He’s also worked with brewers all over the city to get exclusive and hard-to-find beers onto Union’s list. “Craft beer is so accessible now, you need a list that you can’t see when you walk into your local taproom.”
In the short time Union has been open, it appears that customers are taking to the team’s approach. Rather than ordering beers and burgers, the funkier menu items are proving to be some of the most popular. It’s also (much like Lardon) already becoming an industry hangout, helped by the fact that it’s open for dinner seven nights a week.
Thompson and Lewis plan to keep pushing the envelope of how awesome they can make both of their restaurants; no resting on laurels here. As Lewis says: “We want every diner to say, ‘Who am I bringing here next?’”