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Food Review: A Few Missteps Keep Union Table and Tap From Becoming a Neighborhood Go-To

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A singer with a guitar and good-natured sense of humor, surrounded by young families, stands in front of a giant wooden American flag. What looks like an entire youth soccer team is here, still in uniform. A few middle-aged men have bellied up to the bar and a table of seniors digs in.

The singer takes requests, including ones from the kitchen for Disney songs — she obliges with a chorus of “Let It Go.” A Saturday night out in the West End at Union Table and Tap seems to be, quite literally, fun for the whole family.

When its earlier incarnation as Urban Tavern failed to capture the imagination of families with young children, owner Garland Taylor, of Home Team Grill, knew that a change was needed.

The decor was modified to decidedly faux-rustic Americana, with lots of wood, and a Route 66 sign and a giant circular saw blade hanging on the walls. On one side of the restaurant, it feels like a newly designed Texas barbecue joint with concrete floors, wooden tables and kitsch, while the other side seems like a sports bar with its lengthy craft beer list and massive flat screen televisions.

The star-spangled stage in the center of the space unifies the whole — Union Table and Tap is clearly hitting Taylor’s mark to welcome the entire community.

The decor isn’t the only change from the earlier Urban Tavern. The menu has been overhauled as well, moving from chef-driven cuisine by Tim Bereika, formerly of Mosaic Catering & Events and Secco Wine Bar, to a more accessible-to-the-masses kind of fare. Burgers, sandwiches and starters dominate, along with a kids’ menu that endearingly includes, among the standard children’s fare, a bistro steak — for $7, no less. The menu matches the patriotic décor with straight-up American food, including wings, nachos and even burgers named Lady Liberty, and Stars and Stripes.

“United we eat” is printed on the back of each server’s T-shirt, so I wonder on my first visit: Will the food live up to the standards of what we like to think of as the greatest country on earth?

Unfortunately, not quite. An order of a pound of buffalo wings ($12) is problematically served medium-rare, with a few of the wings so undercooked as to be inedible. Also off the starter menu, the barbecued shrimp tacos (3 for $12) are lackluster, with slaw dominating and overpoweringly dry-rubbed shrimp that could have used more heat and numbers to give the dish some distinctive flavor.

Among the burgers and sandwiches, the mediocrity continues. The Nashville Hot Bird ($11) attempts a sandwich of the iconic African-American dish from Tennessee. The breading is so heavy that it flakes off, while grease drips and soaks through the bottom bun. But the chicken is wonderfully moist and spiced exactly right.

I try the Justice burger ($13), topped with white cheddar, smoked bacon, fried onion rings and a tomato-molasses barbecue sauce. These additions turn out to be the best part — I expect more from a patty described as half-brisket and half-chuck, especially for the price. I want a burger with the beef as the star of the show, not an element that plays second fiddle to the accompaniments.

Entrees include a fair amount of seafood as well as a vegetarian pasta, providing plenty of options for the gluten-intolerant and meat-averse. Unfortunately, the jumbo scallops ($22) suffer from similar kitchen mishaps as other dishes — one is overcooked and rubbery while another is so undercooked that my dining companion must spit it out. The overly salty black-truffle balsamic vinaigrette can’t cover up these errors.

If you live nearby, you may want to give Union Table and Tap a few visits before delivering an ultimate verdict. With its excellent beer list, friendly and attentive service, and a menu that’s clearly attempting to be a step above the run-of-the-mill, all the ingredients are there for a great neighborhood gathering spot.

But until it sorts out some kitchen mistakes, it feels too hit-or-miss for the price. And that’s a shame, because the concept of family-friendly, accessible dining elevated a several steps beyond fast food is a good one that deserves both excellence and success. S

Union Table and Tap
10498 Ridgefield Parkway
716-7028
Mondays-Wednesdays 4-10 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays 4-11 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
uniontableandtap.com

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