I’m a huge proponent of locally owned, independent businesses. I’m stumped when I see local businesses being overlooked in favor of a franchise. That being said, my heart leaped when I visited Union Market in Tustin along with a group of fellow journalists. Owners Andrea and Russell Young have created this mecca, patterned after San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building. “We want to provide an opportunity for chef-driven restaurants” says Andrea. There are several at Union Market.
Featuring 26 tenants, including a coffee bar, a wine bar, a gourmet food section, retail and restaurants, this place offers a mix of unique businesses that somehow meld seamlessly. We gathered at the Central Bar, where lead bartender Andrew Parish prepared a Spiced Cuban for us, his twist on the old Cuban cocktail. A blend of El Dorado spiced rum with fresh lime juice, agave nectar, Angostura bitters mint and sparkling wine, this was a most refreshing start to our visit. Parish calls himself a liquid chef and says Central is more than just a bar. His directive is to “make the best cocktails you can make.”
While we visited at the bar, plates of food began to appear. We were given fair warning that there would be a lot of food, and perhaps I should have taken that warning more seriously. Stephen Le presented his Porchetta sandwiches from the Kroft, and to say this was the tastiest sandwich I have ever tried wouldn’t be stretching the truth. Rotisserie pork belly with caramelized onions, salsa verde, arugula and radicchio wrapped up in an artisan ciabatta, it was an explosion of incredible flavors. Poutine is a signature dish of theirs and we enjoyed it with short rib fries. We also tasted their deconstructed chili mac. He calls their cuisine “comfort food reinvented.”
Cubed stopped by with samples of their delicious poke bowls, one called the Lilo bowl and another called the Cali bowl with salmon and ahi. We took a stroll to the Kettle Bar, so named because they cook their food in kettles over steam which won’t burn butter. All the sauces are made in-house and chef Matthew Gilroy made a bisque and a gumbo for us in minutes, before our eyes. The smells were heavenly as were the flavors.
We strolled through the market, stopping at various vendors, including the amazing Turkish spice merchant with his assortment of herbs and spices and many of his own blends. You get to taste them all, too. We previewed Hatch, not yet open during our visit, and got to taste the Hatch Slider with a secret garlic aioli sauce and fries. There are 15 different slider options priced around $12. We sipped “Don’s Dream”, a hybrid of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s Mai Tai.
We gathered back at the Central Bar, where you guessed it, there was more food. From Market 2 Plate we enjoyed a fresh, tasty Asian flair salad with baby mixed greens, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, red pepper, cilantro, celery and more with a soy sauce and sesame oil dressing. They also brought a rigatoni pasta with stir-fried fresh veggies, thyme, basil and olive oil. Don Nguyen and his wife stopped by from Belage Gourmet with a wonderful Pan au Lait with ham and Vietnamese iced coffee. Not only is their food exceptional, they also offer free tutoring for kids K – 12 from 2 to 6.
We stopped by The Dirty Cookie, a place where cookies are hand-crafted into shot glasses and then hand-painted on the inside with chocolate. Fill your choice of cookie shot glass with your choice of milks and creams and once you’ve drunk the contents you eat the glass. What a great twist! Torch is the place to go if you’re craving s’mores. Forget the store-bought Graham crackers and marshmallows, these are hand-made Grahams with handmade vanilla marshmallows served with milk chocolate. Our last stop was at the Crêpe Coop, where they offered us a choice of crêpes: one with a strawberry gelato – sweet milk spread, strawberries, mango, Fruity Pebbles and a scoop of strawberry gelato. Another was made with honey spread, strawberries, raspberries, Nabisco Graham cracker crust and a scoop of cheesecake gelato. What a decadent way to cap off our visit.
Union Market is located in The District at 2493 Park Avenue in Tustin. They will open opening other locations in Mission Viejo as well as Phoenix and Mesa Arizona.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.