You need not have put down foot or fork south of the Mason-Dixon Line to find yourself swept up in the spirit of Southern hospitality. Just mosey over to Somerset Street, where three pals and partners from the Wellington Gastropub have hung out their own shingle. Together, front-of-house men Ivan Gedz and Matt Fantin, along with chef Christopher Lord, are the new restaurant-scene outlaws — triggering the same kind of thrill felt a few years ago when their former bosses ditched the tablecloths and pretentiousness of fine dining and gave us “The Welly.” Unafraid to take us on a ride through some exhilarating and unfamiliar terrain (a menu of post-Prohibition-era cocktails and cheesy grits, for starters), Union Local 613 has gone whole hog for Southern cuisine and everything it stands for: honouring old-fashioned craftmanship, staying connected to the past, and building ties within the community. They’ve even adopted the tagline A Brotherhood of Growers, Cookers, and Eaters to hit the point home. There’s a deliberately rebellious, handmade feel to the long narrow space, starting with the magnificent mural created by local tattoo artist Julian Garner and light fixtures fashioned out of beer bottles and metal pipes. Everything that surrounds the showpiece bar and open kitchen feels as relaxed and worn in as an old pair of jeans. The food, too, feels as familiar as it does new, walking the line between trashy and posh, traditional and modern, fast food and fine dining. Playing along is part of the pleasure: it might mean pretending to understand words like yardbird (chicken in the slang of old Harlem) or nodding knowingly as the server describes the daily “swine” dish. We’ll all be talking with a drawl in no time. As in barbecue joints in the South, sides are ordered separately and should not be overlooked — but good luck choosing between cheddar and roasted garlic grits, a pan of buttery cornbread laced with bourbon, and shrimp-boil macaroni salad. One more Old Fashioned — a small-batch bourbon cocktail — and you might be digging your fork into your neighbour’s plate anyway. With its communal seating, ear-busting playlist, and late-into-the-night hours, Union is ushering Ottawa into a new dining dimension, already adored by restaurant-industry insiders and those who think everything’s better when smothered in Thousand Island dressing.
315 Somerset St. W., 613-231-1010, www.union613.ca.