This weekend, Ledcat and I were at loose ends when it came to evening plans. I mentioned craving barbecue and we simultaneously said “Let’s try Union Pig and Chicken.”
I called to make a reservation and had no trouble landing a table for 2 at 6 PM even though it was nearly 2 PM that same day. We finished our errands early and decided to see if we could be served earlier than 6. No real problem except some lack of communication between the upstairs staff and the downstairs staff.
The location is pretty good – lots of street parking nearby, easy to find and so forth. The downstairs is set up in long community style benches and tables. Upstairs there were a few tables and a few highboys. I hoped for a table so we could enjoy the view, but those were apparently reserved. So long community style table it was.
The menu is limited as you would expect – several meats and some traditional barbecue side dishes with a little upscale flair. We opted to try pork, brisket and fried chicken. We also ordered macaroni and cheese, potato salad and corn bread.
The portions were fine. The meat was served dry with a rub; several sauce options were at the table. Our food was presented on a stainless steel tray along with several serving spoons and we were on our own. The fried chicken was delicious and perfect. The cubed pork was tasty and moist. The brisket was a bit charred and I didn’t like that. The macaroni and cheese was pretty good and Ledcat declared the potato salad “just okay.” I didn’t try it because I don’t like mustardy/vinegary potato salad. The cornbread was very dry and no butter was on hand.
We ordered two “whoopee pies” to go and ate them at home. Both were just okay, perhaps a bit stale? They come from a nearby bakery and look very pretty but I wouldn’t spend the money on them again.
I checked out multiple reviews of this restaurant and it seems people either love it or hate it. I found the prices acceptable for the quantity of food and the “atmosphere” of the hipster-beer-barbecue restaurant. The food was decent to good, but the consistent weakness in the reviews seems to be customer service. The staff do seem a bit laissez-faire/indifferent to customers. Our server explained things to us and refilled our drinks, so the basics were covered. But I had the overall sense that most of the staff could care less if were dining or not, happy or not, making eye contact or not. And I even had a smidge of a suspicion that two women not drinking alcohol got a little bit less attention than other tables – even before 7 PM at night.
Unfortunately, that plays right into the worst stereotypes about “hipster” venues – aloof indifference is not appealing when you are asking someone to fork over money for something they can get at a barbecue joint down the street for half the price. The food isn’t spectacular enough to offset feeling disregarded. The good news is that a good manager can turn that around fairly quickly. But then again, some of these complaints date back quite awhile so maybe the manager is the one who isn’t excited about waiting on us?
I would return to this restaurant if I had a hankering for pork barbecue. And that’s only going to happen once or twice a year so I’m not really their target demographic. I would not attend events there because the second floor was not accessible (to my knowledge) so that’s a big turnoff for me. And if the staff were so consistently aloof the next I visited, I probably wouldn’t return a third time.
In terms of macaroni and cheese, I’ll make plans to head back to any community meal prepared by Judah Christian Fellowship for the best mac and cheese in town, hands down. But Union Pig and Chicken was fine.
I guess I expect a bit more from the Kevin Sousa franchise of restaurants given how much hype he’s receiving. People aren’t going to agree on food, especially barbecue because their expectations are very different. But service should be a hallmark that any franchise values. The repeated comments on review sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon and even Facebook about the poor service should be tackled head on with improved service. Period.