published Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Kitchen at Union Square offers upscale food, prices

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    The crab cake sandwich at the Kitchen at Union Square is served on a bun with sweet peppers and garlic butter.

I think I’ve eaten at least once in each of the various eateries that have occupied the space in the bottom of the Union Square building over the years. In all but one of them, I thought the food was good to very good, but for whatever reason the previous businesses did not last too long.

The most recent incarnation is the Kitchen at Union Square. It’s a fairly upscale restaurant that has the added ingredient of being associated with the Culinard Institute of Virginia College School of Business and Health. The students there can drop in and get hands-on tips from the staff. The restaurant’s kitchen staff does most of the cooking, however.

THE MENU

Both the lunch and dinner menus are not overcrowded with options. That’s fine by me, as I’d rather the kitchen focus on doing a couple of things really well.

For lunch, the cooks offer two soups ($6), a Roasted Butternut Squash and a soup of the moment. Four salads ($10-$13) are offered, as well as what they call shares, which the rest of us would call appetizers. These include warm goat cheese with garlicky mushrooms and grilled bread ($8), oysters ($9), parmesan truffle fries ($6) and tuna tataki with cucumber salad and cellophane noodles ($14).

Sandwiches offered during lunch include a Union Joe, a confit of chicken with house tomato redux and cheddar cheese ($9), a bacon, fried green tomato and cheese sandwich ($9), the Union Burger ($12) and a crab cake sandwich ($13).

Entrees include braised short ribs ($13), fish and chips ($10), hanging tender (butcher’s steak, $14) and a sustainable fish of the day.

THE ORDER

When I asked for a recommendation on what to order, my waitress, OVERSET FOLLOWS:Ariel, was pretty quick to suggest that the Union Burger with bacon jam, grilled onion, red dragon, fried green tomato and field greens was the way to go.

“It’s a lot of food,” she said.

But since I had a big family meal waiting for me for dinner that night, I went another direction. I chose the soup of the moment (I love how fresh that sounds), which was vegetable with andouille sausage, and the crab cake sandwich with fruit.

I could have ordered sweet potato fries (which I wanted) or chips, but again, I was thinking light. This time.

While I thought I was getting a cup of soup, Ariel brought out a large bowl and three sesame crackers. The soup contained greens, carrots, potatoes and sausage chunks, and it was delicious. I could have easily had just that and been happy, but since I was also getting the sandwich, I think I would have preferred the smaller cup size. Normally, I would add some Tabasco, but the soup was fine as served.

A short while later, she brought out the sandwich and the fruit. The cake was thick and packed full of crab. It was served on a bun with a slice of roasted sweet peppers and garlic butter.

The bun had been toasted, which gave the sandwich a charred flavor, which on first bite was somewhat off-putting. A couple of bites later, I realized the crab, while very tender and perfectly cooked, had almost no flavor of its own. It had been seasoned with salt, which did come through fine, but mostly I got lots of the char flavor and some of the butter and the sweet pepper.

It wasn’t bad, just not wonderful, and considering it was a $13 sandwich, I deserved a wow.

THE SERVICE

Everything was top drawer in this regard. Ariel was friendly, informative, and she delivered everything quickly and with a smile.

THE SPACE

The Kitchen at Union Square is in the basement of the building. I know you can get there via elevator from inside, though I’ve never entered that way. I’ve always used the stairs outside of the building. It is a fairly sparse and open space with a bar separating two dining areas. It’s a white-tablecloth kind of place, and for what it’s worth, they use the biggest soup spoons I’ve ever seen.

THE VERDICT

I’m not sure I got a true representation of what the Kitchen is all about. While my soup was very good, my sandwich was disappointing. The service was very good, and the space is nice, but my total bill for lunch with tip was $25. That’s hard to do too often, even when the food is amazing.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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