Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Evanston eatery Union Pizzeria combines food and live music

A new restaurant barely three months old is shaking up the white-bread culinary scene in Evanston. Union Pizzeria is the innovative brainchild of a partnership between real estate developer Craig Golden, former music producer Stuart Rosenberg, musician Dave Spector and Steve Schwartz, owner of Campagnola restaurant located down the street. The unique venture is part dining establishment, part musical venue—ultimately creating a haven for foodies and musicians alike.

Although it's called a pizzeria, Union Pizzeria is far from the old-school idea of a pizza-only, red-and-white checkered tablecloth joint. From the huge full-length windows facing the street and the high, exposed wooden ceilings to the visible brick and plaster purposely left over from the location’s previous incarnation and the colorful, modern lounging area and chic bar, Union is hip and trendy without being inaccessible. “The original vision was a place for coming together—a place where anyone can feel comfortable,” says Heather Behm, manager of operations. “The energy here is infectious and contagious. There’s a great vibe.” Tunes from the Fray and Damien Rice as well as '90s pop classics loudly blare in every direction while patrons enjoy a huge selection of alcoholic beverages, including 50 wines under $50.

In the kitchen is Chef Vince DiBattista, who was brought over from Campagnola. “It’s simple, not fussy food with great ingredients,” Behm says. The quality shows in Union’s surprisingly affordable pizzas and small plates. Standouts include the eggplant caponata, a hearty relish that includes capers and olives, and the meatballs with veal, pork and ricotta that come topped with a tasty tomato jam containing orange flavors, giving the dish a delectable citrusy punch. “It almost tastes homemade—it seems like it was made with love,” says Molly Raisch, a first-time customer.

The atmosphere at Union is sure to get only hipper once the music portion of the place really gets kicked into gear. After a short walk down a hallway, patrons enter a beautiful performance area, on this day set up with elegant black tables and chairs. A brand new recording studio follows, which leads into an exclusive members-only club for musicians. For an annual fee, they have access to the space as well as priority rights to the stage. It's a place for artists that “don’t want to sell their souls to a record label. They can come and practice their passions,” Behm says. She says that although Union takes a very small portion of the artists’ profits, it is quite minimal in comparison to cuts that labels might take.

Performances started in the beginning of April, and those behind the project hope to strengthen the sense of community of the establishment and the surrounding area—as well as inject some energy into Evanston. “It was a needed place for Evanstonians,” Behm says. “It’s a place everyone can come and have fun.” - Diana Bae

Union Pizzeria is located at 1245 Chicago (847-475-2400) in Evanston