Union Inn - A Busy Place Where Food's the Thing
Sierra Lodestar 02/24/10

Foothill Flavors

By Antoinette May Herndon

If you’re dreaming of a romantic dinner for two, propositions, proposals, intimacy, etc.,Volcano’s Union House Pub is definitely not the place. It’s a pub. Really a pub. With all the good, bad and ugly the word implies.

After a long, long ride through the forest, through the trees, Charles and I, in a post Valentine’s Day haze, were thinking calm, cozy conversation, romancing the past, planning the future. You know, a dreamy dinner for two. Take my word, that just isn’t likely to happen at the Union House Pub. At least not on a Saturday night.

We were eager to visit the Union House as soon as we heard rumors about it’s being an offshoot of Plymouth’s urbane, elegant Taste. It’s run by the same master restaurateurs, we were told. Visions of a tiny Taste tucked away in the woods danced in our heads.

In one sense that vision may actually be true, but with distinct differences. Taste is kind of hoity-toity for the foothills. The Union House is anything but. For some this will be a plus. Taste is precise. The Union House is . . . let’s say casual.

For starters, the restaurant’s entrance is confusing. Some of the doors on the veranda of the vintage 1880 building are locked. And their knobs are low, really low, like knee-high. Makes you wonder about those rootin’ rootin’ miners of old. Maybe they weren’t larger than life at all. Maybe they were small, say like Snow White’s miner friends.

The Union House’s wait staff, (all quite attractive and normally sized) borrows a bit from those legendary seven drawfs. For

certain, they have the work ethic down cold. Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho! Uniformly cheerful, fast and knowledgeable. Seriously, the service is great despite the crowds and confusion.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once inside the one unlocked door we emerged directly into a very lively, jam-packed saloon which is also one of the two dining rooms. The sign above the bar says “Sit down and relax.” Dream on. You may or may not get a place to sit. Reservations give one a fighting chance. We were lucky to have one. Fortunately, our wait was not too long.

Once seated at a high table in the far corner, we watched as wave after wave of diners and wannabe diners swept in. Make no mistake the Union Inn in popular. Patrons obviously come to eat not talk, but they talk anyway, cupping their hands, shouting across tables. The sound reverberates in the small room.

I checked out the other dining room. Though it does not have a bar, the noise level is only about one decibel less. Ever been to Larry Blake’s after a Cal Berkeley game? The Union Inn is Larry’s without the sawdust. Same noise, same energy. Both turned up high.

Now about the food. Our dinner was really outstanding. A bite or two and we forgot about earlier expectations and lost ourselves in what the pub does well—prepare and serve top quality food.

We each began with a cup of possibly the best potato soup either of us had ever had. It was combined with leeks, shallots, and yellow onions. The price was $3.50.

I ordered braised lamb shank with a cassoulet of cannelloni beans and linguisa sausage ($17). It was truly delicious—something

you’d feel fortunate to find in Provence. With it came the freshest, tastiest spinach one could ever imagine. Not content, I ordered a side of asparagus. Can’t resist it this time of year. Can you? It was a sound decision. What price perfection? $5.

Noceto Sangiovese, suggested by our server, Mitzi, was an excellent accompaniment. ($6.20.)

Charles opted for a Union Burger. “I just know it will be special,” he said. Charles was right. Besides being cooked exactly to taste, the bun, lettuce and tomato were super fresh. But it didn’t end there. Charles had a choice of cheeses: cheddar, bleu cheese or Gruyere. He went with Gruyere. This gourmet burger was $10.50 and also came with fries and a homemade pickle.

A draft glass of Murphys Stout ($3.68) put additional hair on his chest.

We polished off the dinner by sharing a warm apple pie, not a slice but a small individual pie. Despite all the warm recollections of bygone pies—Mother’s, Grandmother’s, etc. —it really doesn’t get any better. ($6)

So that’s the Union Inn. Quirky, noisy but outstanding where it really counts with food and service.

VITALS: The Union Inn, 21375 Consolation St. Volcano. Phone: 296 -7711. Open at 2 p.m. on Friday, 12 p.m. weekends and 5 p.m. on Monday. The kitchen stays open until 9 pm on Friday and Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday and Monday. Reservations highly recommended. Credit cards accepted. I feel obliged to add an additional caveat: The Union Inn has one unisex restroom, a step removed from an outhouse. It needs serious attention. Don’t go there—if you can help it.