Ok, so I freely admit that while I love cooking on a grill, I’m not the biggest fan of barbecue food, especially at most places. One advantage (or disadvantage?) for me as I’ve aged is that my stomach just can’t handle most BBQ sauces.
But, the casual, new Union 72 BBQ in the Shops at Wiregrass mall is not your usual BBQ place. Yes, there’s a slew of smoked meats from which to choose — and there are some unique options among those that I am excited to tell you about — but it’s quite honestly mainly the non-BBQ-style offerings at Union 72 that really do it for me, even though, at one time, I consumed full racks of ribs in one sitting. I still love ribs, but these days, I usually just stick to enjoying one or two of someone else’s ribs (at the most) before I give up.
Well, Union 72 co-owners Jeff Martin and Bharat Chhabria and pitmaster Geoff Zukosky definitely have my attention. One bite of graphic designer Blake Beatty’s Union 72 St. Louis-style ribs and I was hooked. The ribs are prepared with Union 72’s own house-made dry rub, marinated overnight and slow-smoked to perfection. They’re served wet or dry, so I was glad that Blake ordered his dry (the marinade creates a glaze that gives these fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs a nice crispy edge), even though the photo above (provided by Union 72), are shown wet. I’m also partial to Union 72’s Texas-style beef brisket and I enjoyed tastes of the pulled pork and even the country-style sausage.
As I said before, however, I am even more impressed by Union 72’s non-smoked items, like the southern fried hot chicken tenders, which are buttermilk-battered and rubbed with Union 72’s chef-created “Fire” rub. If you like the Nashville hot chicken at that fast food chicken joint, I’m betting you’ll love these super-crispy-outside, tender-and-juicy-inside beauties even more.
I also absolutely loved the Conquistador sandwich, which is still smoked pulled pork, but Spanish-spiced (like at a great Cuban place), topped with a green chimichurri sauce, caramelized onions and topped with a perfect sunny-side-up egg that absolutely oozes into every bite, all on a tasty brioche bun.
Other chef-created Union 72 favorites at our office include the tacos — available with brisket, pork or your choice of smoked meat — the dry-rub (think spicy blackened) hot wings, the pulled chicken salad and the marinated, slow-smoked half chicken.
There are a couple of Asian-influenced sandwiches at Union 72 I’m planning to try on my next couple of visits — the Vietnamese-style Banh mi sandwich (photo, right), which puts slices of that slow-smoked brisket on a baguette, topped with pickled vegetables, cucumbers, bean sprouts and spicy aioli; and the Far East sandwich, which is slow-smoked, chopped pork topped with kimchi, drizzled with Union 72’s house-made Sticky Asian barbecue sauce, and finished with fresh cilantro, scallions and toasted sesame seeds.
Some of these sandwiches are served with your choice of a side and so far, I’m pretty much loving all of ‘em. The corn on the cob, collared greens, fries, house-made slaw, smoked bacon mac & cheese and the smoked, loaded baked potato all get high marks from me. I’m not a big fried okra fan, but lots of Union 72 regulars seem to love it, too. I’ve only sampled three or four of the six house-made sauces to date, but my favorites are the white BBQ and Sticky Asian.
Speaking of folks who already visit Union 72, which has been open about two months at our press time, 900º Woodfired Pizza (also located in the mall) owner Steve Falabella and Little Italy’s (on S.R. 54 in Lutz) owners Carl and Jessica Meyers rave about the place, as did everyone in my office who got to try it the day I wrote this article.
The Brass Tap Connection
Martin is probably familiar to a lot of you, as he opened the first Brass Tap (in the space adjacent to what is now Union 72) in the mall more than eight years ago. Today, Martin and a variety of partners and some franchisees now have 39 Brass Taps in more than a dozen states. The Wiregrass location which previously had only served dozens of beers from around the world and a variety of wines, recently added full liquor, which has only brought in more people to an already popular watering hole and night spot.
Chhabria met Martin when he bought a franchise and the two shared a love for great barbecue and wanted to be able to offer good prices for their “flavors of the world.” Martin even says that Union 72 is now adding a variety of small, shareable appetizer platters — like unique nachos and more — to better serve his thirsty (and often hungry) customers at the Brass Tap.
Speaking of beverages, I love the local Cigar City craft lager on draft (served in mason jars) and house merlot and chardonnay also are available.
And, by the time you read this, you’ll be able to check out Union 72’s expanding catering menu, which you should consider if you want everyone to rave about the food at your “Big Game” party. Union 72 will even provide employees to work your party, to make sure everything is perfect. And, based on my experience so far, it will be!
Union 72 BBQ (2000 Piazza Ave., Suite 150) is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day & until 10 p.m. on Fri. & Sat. For info, call 575-9999, or visit Union72.com. Please tell Jeff & crew we sent you!