At Union Rec, gingham tents drape over large booths and a perfect combination of mismatched hues and patterns makes it feel like the summer camp getaway in the middle of the city.
If you look, pieces of the decor and branding on the Union Rec website are reminiscent of the building’s origins as the Fingerle Lumber Company.
Just as the decor can not be defined by a single theme, the same can be said about the food. Union Rec combines interesting elements from different cultures to create a flavor unique to them.
Union Rec is a cozy coffee shop by day and a bustling restaurant by night. Currently, the coffeehouse opens at 7 a.m. and they open for dinner at 5 p.m.
It is smart to make reservations for dinner ahead of time, which we wished we would have taken advantage of when we arrived at 5:30 on a Friday night and there was already an hour wait.
However, Union Rec is more than prepared to accommodate waiting guests. Once we put our name in, we waited for a text to tell us our table was ready. Since it is close to downtown, we decided to browse a few local shops. Had we not wanted to walk around, we could have relaxed in one of the cozy seating areas provided by Union Rec.
Comfort food with a twist
Through the fusion of barbecue and Latin American cuisine, Union Rec achieves comfort food that spans the Americas.
They offer several interesting appetizers such as sweet pea guacamole, cowboy caviar and disco fries. We decided to order the casa salsas.
We were presented with a flight of three cups of distinctly different flavorful salsas paired with enough chips to share.
The salsas included Union salsa, salsa verde and Peruvian green chili. The Union salsa was the spiciest but the main notes were an authentic smokiness. The salsa verde was lighter and had less heat than the Union salsa, yet its blend of spices led by cumin still carried strong flavor.
Our favorite was the Peruvian green chili. We loved it so much that if we hadn’t scraped the bowl clean, we would have been tempted to drizzle it over our entire meal. This fresh yet creamy green sauce was mild in heat yet full of flavor.
We ordered a variety of dishes for our entree to experience the essence of Union Rec.
Entrees at Union Rec include tacos, salads, soups, sandwiches, smoked meat and other fusion dishes.
It is listed as a starter, but we ordered the Union smoked chicken wings as a part of the main course. While we weren’t sure the Peruvian green chili sauce could be topped, these smoked wings were the highlight of our meal.
Union Rec’s perfected dry rub blends well with the lineup of table sauces. The wings are juicy enough to eat by themselves, however, the sauce is too good to pass up.
Each table has Union Rec’s three sauces labeled Costa Rica, Brazil and El Salvator. The Costa Rica sauce is mild, El Salvator is hot and Brazil is right in the middle. Their combination of spice and acidity take barbecue to the next level.
Union Rec offers a variety of tacos including the Korean pulled pork and BBQ cauliflower. Each taco is served on a choice of corn, flour or hard shell corn tortilla with Peruvian slaw alongside a lime wedge and cilantro lime rice. There is also the option to upgrade your taco to a dorado (two soft corn tortillas with melted cheese) or a champ (one crispy tortilla inner and 1 soft outer with cheese in between).
The BBQ cauliflower tacos are served with the Costa Rican sauce, but adding a squirt of the El Salvator gave it an extra kick. The cauliflower is breaded just enough to add a satisfying crunch to each bite.
We couldn’t finish our order without a side of the Union mac and cheese. It also comes as an entree, but we wanted to save room for dessert.
Oftentimes restaurant mac and cheese can be too heavy and sticky, however, the Union mac checks all of the boxes of what mac and cheese should taste like. Penne rigate is tossed in a creamy Vermont cheddar and mild Piconning sauce and topped with a crispy crust.
We ended our meal with the mini state fair donuts. Without being too greasy, these fried donuts were tossed in a heavy layer of cinnamon sugar and served with salted caramel and chocolate cinnamon dipping sauces. At this point in the meal, it is no surprise that Union Rec once again dominates in the sauce department.
A daytime cozy coffee shop
After our impressive dining experience at Union Rec, we decided to check out the coffeehouse during the day.
Their coffee and tea menu has all of the staples and then some. I ordered the special which was the almond latte. The syrup added an extra layer of flavor to my latte rather than an overpowering and artificial sweetness.
It is also worth trying some of their specialty pastries. The crunchy tastee cake consists of moist layers of chocolate cake rolled with sweet and light cream and topped with crunchy coating. A variation of this tastee cake is also on the main dessert menu at the restaurant.
Visiting Union Rec during the day is a great time to appreciate the atmosphere in a more relaxed environment.
A must-visit Ann Arbor destination
Union Rec is already off to an impressive start and they are continuing to grow. Beginning Sat. Jan. 21, they will be adding a weekend lunch.
The full menu can be found online as well as a full list of hours.
545 S. Main St, Ann Arbor. 734-636-9999.