One visit. One meal. One shot to get it right
As an aging hipster myself, I have to confess that one thing I don’t like about hipster culture is this: Hipsters judge. And they manifest those judgments in many not-so-subtle ways. (In that way, they’re a lot like the gay community.)
So, when I went up to the bar at Union Bear, once the bartender noticed me (I was one of two people at the bar then), I ordered a Moscow mule. Now, fans of the mule know it’s a drink that is not just made up of liquids, but of presentation: Tradition dictates it be served in a copper cup. Instead, mine arrived in a tall glass with an even taller straw. (Doesn’t anyone know a straw should poke just above the lip of the container, no matter how tall the container is?) I pointed out the lack of a copper cup to the bartender.
“We only use those on request,” he said. “They get stolen.”
All well and good; I suppose I looked like a thief, then? Some schmo who would walk off with barware? It didn’t put me in the best of moods. But then I drank the mule.
My memory beyond that is a bit fuzzy. The reason they call the damn thing a Moscow mule is because (1) it’s made with vodka and (2) it packs a kick. Union Bear’s made me woozy in the best sense. Proper presentation? Maybe not. But for impact it did what a cocktail should.
I did recover long enough to taste the food as well. (Union Bear does bill itself, after all, as “A Place to Eat.”) It’s gastropub wannabe in style, and, like the cocktail, less functional than flavorful. My lamb-and-goat cheese pizza (ordered for one, but enough for two or even as a shared app; $15) looked a bit strange and behaved a bit stranger. With burbled, thick crust along the edges but tapering slightly to a flat, almost New York-style center, the goat cheese was served up in bulbous white dollops in the center of each piece, like the bouncing balls that chased Patrick McGoohan on The Prisoner. The tomato sauce and mozzarella formed a cacophonous swirl, while boulders of lamb poked from beneath.
When I grabbed the first slice by the corner, virtually all of the toppings slid inward onto the other pieces, leaving a naked flap of dough. I spooned the ingredients back on and bit in.
Chewy, but also crisp; rich warmth from the goat cheese and spicy but not overwhelming flavors from the lamb. It didn’t take me long to complete, though my judgment may have been impaired from the mule.
The soup-and-half-sammy ($13) offered my lunch companion a bit of home-spun familiarity.
The tomato basil arrived slightly cold, but welcoming (even if it’s not as good as the granddaddy of the genre at La Madeleine). The sammy, while not memorable, met expectations.
Union Bear conjures a hipsterish neighborhood bar for good and bad, but you can’t argue with results. Even if you’re too wasted to return to work after a Moscow mule.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Union Bear, 3699 McKinney Ave. in the West Village, across from the Magnolia. UnionBear.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 19, 2013.