The Union Kitchen On Bellaire Gets a Hometown Chef and Revitalized Menu
The Union Kitchen, restaurateur Paul Miller’s five-location Houston chain, recently welcomed a new executive chef to its original Bellaire location. Jesse Esquivel, formerly of Perry’s Steakhouse and Grand Lux Cafe, grew up in Meyerland and is revamping the classic bistro menu while rekindling the relationship with the neighborhood.
Esquivel and Miller updated nearly half of the menu at the Bellaire location with a combination of Esquivel’s own signature dishes and old customer favorites. The goal seems to be a spiritual throwback to the early days of the restaurant, when Miller and wife Doris both managed what was, at the time, their sole location. Houston Food Finder was recently invited to sample Esquivel’s new dishes and the returning favorites aimed to bring new life to this aging Bellaire kitchen.
Returning to the menu are a set of nostalgic dishes once integral to The Union Kitchen’s appeal when it opened in 2010. Dishes like Pete’s Steak Sandwich, named after Paul’s father, and Mama P’s Baked Brie, a cozy dish of warm brie wrapped in phyllo dough and served with fig preserves and water crackers named after Doris’ mother. These old family recipes join returning classics like prosciutto wrapped asparagus, prosciutto arugula pasta and Paul’s BBQ sandwich in their triumphant return to The Union Kitchen menu.
New additions to the menu include chef Esquivel’s cedar plank BBQ salmon, shrimp and grits, shrimp and scallop linguini fra diavolo and a mouthwatering plate of Maine lobster stuffed ravioli. Tossed in a vodka suga rosa sauce with chunks of Maine lobster and topped with a lemon arugula salad, the homey Italian comfort dish represents a noticeable move towards gourmet inspired fare with more than a touch of fine dining pedigree.
Along with new permanent items, Esquivel will also introduce new chef’s specials such as a recent offering of potato-crusted halibut served over creamy risotto with asparagus and broccolini. The fish was prepared excellently; flaky and buttery with the added crunch of the thin potato crust, which paired well with the creamy risotto rice.
The brunch menu is also getting a facelift. Esquivel and Miller have introduced a slew of new dishes, including housemade sticky buns, Katie’s Nutella crepes and chicken fried steak and eggs. Along with $2 mimosas, the roster of new brunch libations includes the Morning Mule with orange and grapefruit juice, sage bourbon lemonade and Dad’s Morning Juice with orange vodka, orange juice and grapefruit.
“Our menu had changed quite a bit [since 2010],” says Miller, “In the spirit of a true neighborhood restaurant, we wanted to get back to the community and focus on items both old and new that our regulars wanted to see”.
The Millers also own two Jax Grill locations and plan to open a sixth The Union Kitchen in Katy later this year. The decision to hire Esquivel, a talented young chef with a fine dining background and neighborhood roots, is part of a continued effort to differentiate the each location in the Millers’ growing line of restaurants operated under their Gr8 Plate Hospitality corporation from one another. While the company seems poised to grow into a full-fledged chain, the decision to protect their individual locations from the homogenization growing restaurant groups tend to fall into seems like a wise one. In this way, the Bellaire outpost retains a classic neighborhood identity with enough menu independence to feel authentic.
Esquivel’s talents in the kitchen don’t hurt either.