Union Standard: Raw Bar Platter

Union Standard, the long-awaited new restaurant from local chef Derek Stevens, opened over the weekend adding a dynamic culinary player to the downtown restaurant scene. The two-story, mostly open space with large street-view windows, occupies a prime corner position at the base of the century-old gem, The Union Trust Building.

Stevens is a well-regarded local chef who spent over a decade as the executive chef at Eleven, the longtime Strip District fixture and key part of the big Burrito restaurant group. Now that the pieces for his first solo restaurant endeavor have come together, he is thrilled to be back in his element. “It’s great to be back to work. I love it and I’m just really happy to be wearing an apron every day again!” says Stevens.

union standard: signage

Local and seasonal foods hold the spotlight on what will be a frequently changing menu with selections drawing from Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Appalachian cuisines. A wood-fired grill is the heart and soul for many of the meat, fish and vegetable preparations. Pennsylvania Trout and Berkshire Pork are grill specialties. Whole roasted farm-raised chickens spin slowly on the rotisserie. The eponymous “Union Standard” burger has a straight-up classic presentation with meat from Jubilee Hilltop, the southern Pennsylvania family-owned farm and ranch.

Shareable starters include steak tartare, roasted beets and skillet baked blue crab. The warm potato bread baked in small loaves served with sweet onion jam is not to be missed. It adds a wonderful homey detail to the menu.

The roomy square-shaped bar sits perched at the back tier of the restaurant midway between the lower and upper floors. A well-stocked raw bar is front and center in the bar area with oysters, clams and snow crab claws packed tightly together in ice — another nod to the Northeast. A separate menu lets diners customize their own platters of coastal favorites.

union standard: dining room

The bar is a particular source of pride for Chef Stevens. “I’m really excited about our cocktail program headed up by Jen Parks [formally of Morcilla)]. I think she has done a great job putting everything together,” he says. The well-regarded small batch bourbon maker, Buffalo Trace, and Pennsylvania vodka maker, Boyd & Blair are featured in some of the cocktail menu options that range from classic to new. Speaking of classic, it’s hard to beat “The Vesper” — a martini made with gin, vodka and lillet made popular by James Bond. 

A full range of beers including local favorites from Hop Farm, East End Brewing Co. and Grist House are all at-the-ready, as well as Arsenal Fighting Elleck, the crisp, locally-made hard cider. 

union standard: mural

Union Standard has two large dining areas, one upstairs and one downstairs. A large painted mural depicting a Western Pennsylvania landscape is the focal point of the downstairs street level dining room. It continues across a row of cherry-red banquettes. 

There’s a large open kitchen facing out into the upstairs dining space which has long curtain dividers to help create more intimate settings within the room.  In total, the restaurant commands 7,300 square feet with seats for 170 diners.

Union Standard marks the first solo restaurant project for Stevens, who along with business partner Christine Grady, has worked diligently to put the design and menu details together and assemble the staff. The prime downtown location in such a significant building is a highlight for all involved.

“I couldn’t ask for a better location” says Stevens, adding “this is such an incredible building.” The restaurant is part of a $100 million renovation of the landmark Union Trust Building. The Boston-based Davis Companies purchased the structure nearly three years ago.

Union Standard is currently open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. The restaurant plans to roll out lunch and brunch service in the coming weeks.

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.