Union Square Cafe
21 E 16th St, New York, NY 10003
Union Square Cafe is an institution in New York City. At least one that won’t break the bank like Per Se or Eleven Madison.
As the humble beginning of resturanteur Danny Meyer’s, the genius behind Shake Shack, I expected it to be somewhat hip and cool looking. Like a mix between Gramercy Tavern and SS. And I always thought it would be located in Bryant Park or inside the Flatiron building. Though, never mind my imagination.
Hidden on the side streets on the west end of Union Square, USC is quaint. The space is narrow with an even narrower and steep stairway that leads to the second floor. On the top floor, there are about 8 tables, a few for larger parties of up to 5 and the rest for party of twos. Safe to say, the restaurant isn’t very big and I can see why it’s constantly busy.
Luckily, I was able to snatch a reservation for 12:30 p.m., after ABC Kitchen was all booked up. We were led to our seat on the second floor, which was nice and private, away from the hustle and bustle downstairs. Our waiter was very attentive without being annoying and over hearing him explain the menu to the other table was reassuring. We were offered a bread basket along with olives and a square of butter with some type of garnished sea salt.
I had viewed the menu the night before and wanted to get their Huckleberry Pancakes with Peanut-Bacon Butter for a comparison to Clinton Street Baking Company’s epic (as in, the best I’ve ever tasted) Blueberry Pancakes with Maple Butter.
Turns out, they weren’t serving brunch. Those pancakes were just not meant to be. Instead, I narrowed my choices down to the USC burger or their Chicken Milanese. I chose the latter, as I was looking for a salad, but also had a chicken finger craving a few days ago. Two birds one stone, yes!
My lunch companion ordered the Yellowfin Tuna Burger with ginger mustard glaze, grilled onions and a creamy cabbage slaw.
The fried chicken cutlet was the perfect texture. The batter was light yet still crispy.
The chicken was cleaved to the appropriate thinness without losing it’s bite. The fresh mixed greens piled a top the battered poultry was glazed with a vinegar dressing, which help cut through the grease. I opted for cheese shreds on the side, but didn’t really use any of it as the large piece of fried chicken was gluttonous enough.
Make sure to have a reservation to avoid being turned away. There’s always the option to sit at the bar, though it can get a little crowded. The service is definitely one of the highlights for me (in the beginning), though we did seem to be the last of the lunch crowd, just chatting away. Our waiter’s pleasantness went from chipper to transcending that it was time for us to leave. I had an empty Starbucks cup in front of me and he took it away without a word, which I found odd and a tad rude.
It’s definitely a repeat place worthy of trying a few more items on their menu. Perhaps brunch or even dinner.