Union Rec, 545 S. Main St. Ann Arbor, boasts a nostalgically pleasant, lively and colorful interior décor with seating booths highlighted by its unique geometrical wood-paneled design.
The downtown restaurant crafts a beautiful artistic-funky attitude with its distinctive menu, which hosts authentic Mexican cuisine with an American BBQ twist, like burritos and enchiladas mixed with recipes like the Union Mac and Cheese or their delicious smoked meats.
The restaurant creates a blend of innovative yet familiar meals for newcomers to savor. Union Rec’s Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Griener shares what he believes allows Union Rec to thrive with its creative and flavorful dishes.
In a very restaurant-centric area like Ann Arbor, in what ways do you think Union Rec stands out?
I think Union Rec stands out because it literally stands out. It’s like its own little campus on Main Street. It’s been built to let guests find their own way and decide what they’re game for. If someone wants to come in for coffee and get some work done in the morning, have at it. If a group wants to gather around the fireplace for cocktails or have a raucous lunch or dinner, we’re all about it. From a solo visitor to a 20 top inside or a group of 100 in the lumber shed, we’ve got you covered literally!
Since joining Union Rec, what’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
Having seen Union Rec evolve from bare concrete walls, dust, and wires, to the destination it is today is awesome. Looking out on a busy night and seeing so many of our Ann Arbor neighbors enjoying the joint, that is amazing.
Most of your food is vegetarian and gluten-free. How do you go about making these traditionally meat-heavy foods, not only a vegan-friendly meal but also give an authentic taste?
All our ingredients and components are fresh and made in-house. So, when you substitute one item, like meat, from a traditional dish you still taste all that love and authenticity.
For those trying your restaurant for the first time, what is the perfect three-course meal that you would recommend and why?
Got to go with the Honcho Nacho with Pulled Pork, followed by BBQ brisket and smoked chicken tacos, with a delicious s’mores brownie pie to top the experience off. The Honcho Nachos hit so many taste levels. They are unreal. Our s’mores brownie pie is an ode to cozy campfires, inspired by Union Rec’s theme.
What’s your all-time favorite meal?
The brisket at Union Rec is by far the best I’ve ever had. No question.
What do you believe Ann Arbor could use in terms of restaurants or in the local food industry?
Ann Arbor is all about the people. Picture a big outdoor pavilion with beer tents and food trucks to pump up the adventure of tasting on the scene. And some yard games to play with new friends. The fact that this community supports its independent restaurants, is what makes Ann Arbor such a stellar food destination. That and the fact that you’ve got so many students with adventurous appetites!
What is something you would like customers to know about while eating at Union Rec?
I’ve always believed we should eat at places where people love their jobs, and that’s Union Rec. This building has a tremendous history in Ann Arbor, and our entire staff is glad to be part of its next adventure. That care shows here.
You say the building has a tremendous history in A2, Could you expand on that history?
It was Fingerle Lumber, a family-owned company here in Ann Arbor. Before that, it was a furniture factory. We found a bunch of railroad ties while working in the parking lot, which became part of the early foundations of the restaurant.
What is the story behind Union Rec. I believe they began from a group of restaurants that started in Michigan. Can you tell us more about them?
The restaurants started in Clarkston Michigan with the Clarkston Union, an old church that converted to a restaurant. It had a large bar, and the altar area was converted to the cooking line. That was 25 years ago and one of the coolest restaurants we have. They bought a woodshop down the street, they turned that into a fine-dining restaurant. They converted other restaurants like Finn Firehall and Vinsetta Garage. They have nine different restaurants, so they’ve converted a lot of different places.
Did you come from one of those other restaurants?
I worked at Vinsetta Garage as my first restaurant and helped open the Gran Castor Station in Troy. That was an old converted Hooters, where they kept some of the color scheme. When this restaurant opened, I came here.
Tell us about the décor – it’s a very distinct camp vibe with 1960s and 1970s decor. Can you tell us more about the interior?
The interior is like Grandma’s cabin up north. You can see all of the Flea-Market hodge-podge stuff that someone would have with crazy cozies. They went with that theme and put it on the wall.
For more information on Union Rec visit unionrec.com or call 734-636-9999.
Antonio Cooper is a freelance journalist from Detroit, Michigan. His coverage of music festivals and interviews with local celebrities appeared in The E-Current Magazine, The Detroit Metro Times, XXL Magazine, RichMagDigital, The Ann Arbor Observer, and Pop Magazine.