September 24, 2014 – My mother, Mari Rich, is 88 today! She lives with my stepfather, Paul, on an idyllic piece of East Texas woodland about 40 miles or so northwest of Houston. Whenever I fly coast to coast I always try to stop for a couple of days just to check on her. The truth is she’s so active I can’t keep up with her.
She called me recently while I was in Washington, D.C., to tell me that she had found a new restaurant she thought I would like. Coincidentally my stepson, Garrett Stepanovich, who lives in Houston proper, also sent me a message saying he’d like us to get together when I was in the area. As it happened the restaurant my mother had in mind was in Kingwood, roughly about halfway between her house and his. Sounded like a plan was developing.
The Union Kitchen was the brainchild of Paul Miller while he was still in college. He had in mind an upscale restaurant with the atmosphere of a neighborhood favorite. And that’s exactly what he and his partner, Executive Chef Juan Arellano, have created. In addition to the Kingwood restaurant they have two other locations in Houston itself.
In Kingwood, the room is all dark wood and leather. It’s a warm room. Comfortable. The kind of place that has a private room where local civic clubs meet. As a matter of fact the Red Hat group that my mother founded in the area has its lunch meetings there from time to time.
We arrived first but then we weren’t fighting rush hour traffic. Garrett and his girlfriend, Ingrid Bender, had to wind their way through the infamous raft of Houstonians trying to get home after work.
As we perused our menus I began to understand Miller and Arellano’s concept of food. They are seeking to provide a “global cuisine with southern hospitality.” The dishes offered are indeed global but with a southern twist.
For instance, the entrée I couldn’t resist. Osso Bucco is one of my favorite dishes. It is usually made with a shank of veal. Sometimes a shank of lamb. The Union Kitchen’s offering is labeled “Porkobucco.” A classic global dish southern style.
In an Osso Bucco the shank of whatever is slow-cooked and should be falling off the bone, fork tender. It’s a quality not that difficult to achieve with veal or lamb. But I wondered if a pork shank could be that tender. I needn’t have been concerned.
The pork shank placed in front of me rested on the traditional bed of mashed potatoes and was surrounded by slices of zucchini and yellow squash. I tested the shank with my fork and, sure enough, there was no need for a knife. Fork tender. Falling off the bone. Succulent.
No one but me was really interested in dessert. But again the Union Kitchen offered something I wanted to try. A pair of free form crème brulees. One the traditional custard; the other chocolate. Again a twist on a traditional global dish. I ordered one and asked for five forks. Delightful.
A few all too rare hours with family. Food worth fighting Houston traffic for. It was a good night.
Oh, and happy birthday to my mother!