Expect strong cocktails, salty snacks, and a good time at The Union Public House from 11 AM to whenever the last locals meander out into the night. The space is ample but feels intimate, its whitewashed brick walls dotted with long pieces of driftwood art. The staff are warm and friendly, suggesting their own menu favorites and helpful pairing suggestions.
Behind the swinging doors in the kitchen, you’ll find chef Blake Rushing, whose culinary career has taken him from Orlando to London to New York City to Vancouver and now to Pensacola. Blake sources local greens, seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, and meats from Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. He likes to keep things interesting and frequently adds unexpected menu items and ingredients.
We start with two must-try staples: slightly spicy boiled peanuts with garlic and a sprinkle of fresh lemon juice, and oversized pork rinds with smoky serrano salt. Both are warm and salty, with vastly different but satisfying textures.
A Frito pie arrives in its vending machine–sized bag overflowing with juicy chunks of smoked brisket. Sweetness comes in the form of vidalia onions, followed by sharp pickled jalapeños, and a distinct Frito crunch. A rich red serrano BBQ sauce stands up to the flavor of the brisket, and it’s all topped off with shredded cheddar.
Two salads are fresh and busy. Lightly pickled beets top baby greens and are cut with a smooth truffled goat cheese mousse and shaved parmesan, sweet-and-salty walnuts, and a light vinaigrette. Local grilled fish is nestled amongst spicy arugula, grilled pineapple, cherry tomatoes, and more parmesan with freshly-cracked pepper.
The Buffalo Fresh Catch sandwich is messy and simple, with lightly battered fried shrimp, shredded lettuce, matchstick carrots, and celery. Its Buffalo sauce has hints of vinegar, cayenne, and butter, and complements the creamy ranch.
The sloppy Joe is my favorite; it speaks of chef Rushing’s tendency to twist the expected. It’s made with gamey wild boar that’s sweet and slightly spicy, perfectly tender. Bits of fried sage and onion as well as tangy pickled jalapeños and red peppers balance things out. A side of collard greens is a just-right companion.
Fresh, inventive cocktails are organized into perennials (year-round), annuals (seasonal), mocktails, and boilermakers (beer-based). You can’t really go wrong, but anything with beets is good. And there’s a fun two-person cocktail served in a pineapple shaker.
The bar is a great spot for a light bite and drink, and there’s a romantic patio out back. The atmosphere is lively and fun, and on sunny days the garage doors are opened so diners can bask in the Florida sunshine.