Sunday, January 30, 2011

Old Town Eating: Union Street Public House

Old Town Alexandria's: Union Street Public House

When it comes to dining in Old Town Alexandria, what comes to mind most immediately is Cathal Armstong's burgeoning empire--Restaurant Eve, the Majestic, PX, and Eamonn's--which this year is slated to expand by another 50% with the planned opening of Virtue Feed and Grain (upscale Irish and global comfort food to seat 300) and Society Fair (a European style market with a bakery, butcher shop, wine shop and prepared food store, with nightly food and cocktail demonstrations).

This past weekend we found ourselves on King Street in Old Town without an Armstrong dinner reservation. This lack of planning led to a fun food find. Union Street Public House operates in a renovated Colonial warehouse adjacent to the soon-to-be Virtue Feed and Grain space. The ground floor of the space is a large and loud bar, which was filled to capacity when we showed up late Friday evening. Advised by the bouncer that there was a dining room upstairs, we made a beeline through the crowd to the stairwell. Wrought iron chandeliers, exposed beams and brick, and booth nooks adorned the upstairs space.

My first thought was how similar this place seemed to Durgin Park, a century old Boston institution in an equally touristy area.  At Durgin Park, once you make your way through the first floor bar and upstairs, you also discover an old world charm and some classic (albeit no frills) New England cooking. Is Public House the Old Town equivalent? I am happy to report that is in many ways (minus a century or so of history) it is. The friendly service, the classic reasonably priced dishes, and the draft beers all made this place feel genuine.

An order of Wally’s oysters brought plump bacon topped broiled fried oysters kicked up with pepper butter.

Union Street Public House: Wally's Oysters

The Cioppino, shown in the split portion below, was teeming with fresh seafood, clams, mussels, and white fish.  The dish would have benefited from a bit more heat and pasta cooked a tad more on the al dente side, but it was nonetheless a hearty comfort on a cold night.

Union Street Public House: Cioppino

For dessert we opted for the completely gluttonous option: icebox cake.  While I was expecting something more like Magnolia Bakery’s version, I was not in any way disappointed with the moist tower of cake interlaced with a chocolate buttercream.  This is a chocolate lover's dream.

Union Street Public House: Ice Box Cake

The meal was washed down with a few local draft beers.  We enjoyed lingering over our final sips with the standards and jazz playing in the background.  Dinner for two with shared appetizer, entree, dessert, tax, tip, and three beers was $50.  And while we did not partake, their restaurant week special was a $35 three course dinner for two -- half the price of the standard deal. 

Union Street Public House on Urbanspoon

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