Pints & Union has burst onto the local bar scene with a big buzz, and it has the market cornered on atmosphere with its quirky yet welcoming vibe, replete with antiques, taxidermy, vintage (and sometimes creepy) portraits and a European vibe.
Add to that a robust cocktail program and beer list that explores classic European styles built for the purest of purists, and you’re in pretty good territory. Now add a menu that features pub grub inspired by everything from European cuisine to American classics, and it adds up to, well, deserved buzz.
I was excited to give the food a try, so my girlfriend Cynthia and I met our friends Butch and Jane for dinner recently at the New Albany pub. The results were mostly spot-on.
We went on a Tuesday because that’s the day of the week when shawarma is the featured dish. Part of the charm of the place is that includes rotators like bangers and mash on weekends, Guinness beef stew on Thursdays and chicken tikka masala on Sundays.
Butch and I ordered the shawarma, which is house-made, while Cynthia went for the Big Mac Miller burger with fries, and Jane chose a spicy tikka chicken “sando.”
To mine, I ordered a Scotch egg, the pub food of gods.
At Pints & Union, you order at the bar, get a number (actually a playing card on a stand), and your food comes to your table. Our wait was minimal, and the food came out in cardboard baskets — laidback and efficient.
Our food service was staggered, but only in one-minute or two-minute intervals.
The shawarma was a winner. Served gyro-style on a soft pita, the hand-sliced lamb was flavorful and accentuated by a host of garnishes, from tzatziki to pickled red onion to thin-sliced pickled cucumbers.
Iceberg lettuce helps fill things out, with a few green onions and a thin layer of chili sauce for good measure. The extra-large sandwich brought an intriguing blend of flavors that made it unlike any gyro-style sandwich I’ve had, with a more distinct contrast between the cool sauces, crisp vegetables and savory meat.
Butch and I both enjoyed our choices, and I would order another one if I drop in again on a Tuesday.
Jane was well-pleased with her choice, and while she noted there was no way she could have eaten the dish sandwich-style, she said it was flavorful and filling. It consisted of marinated and grilled chicken with lemon yogurt, pickled chilis, pickled red onion and cilantro on a pair of crispy layers of nan.
I had assured Cynthia her burger would be manageable, with patties smashed flat, diner-style. I was completely wrong.
The sandwich, as it clearly is intended to be, is like what would happen if the Titanic had been a Big Mac, with two thick patties, iceberg, lots of melted, gooey American cheese and house sauce on a triple-layer bun.
It was impressive to behold, with the initial only drawback being that the integrity of the bun collapses quickly under the weight and moisture of what’s within. I took one bite and needed two napkins to get my fingers back to shawarma-eating mode.
By the end of the meal, the burger had turned into a pile of ingredients, which Cynthia and I gobbled up with forks. I could have used more seasoning in the ground beef, but the ingredients were high quality and the patties were cooked to a perfect medium, with just a hint of pinkness in the center.
But come with an appetite, because that’s one hefty burger, especially for the $10 price tag.
The order of hand-cut fries we got was solid, nothing special, but we ordered a side of house lime garlic aioli that was flavorful and an interesting departure from the admittedly interesting house ketchup. And for $4, the serving was plentiful. We both ate some and still had a few left behind.
My Scotch egg was served with beer cheese and ketchup, both house-made like most everything at P&U. The menu says the egg is “soft cook” and wrapped in fennel sausage (again, house-made), but the egg inside mine was decidedly hard-boiled.
I cut into the egg with my fork and noted that the sausage shell was firm to the point of being borderline hard. The spicy sausage tasted quite good, with the distinctive fennel flavor only easing in, and the mustard was an ideal companion, but my best guess is the egg was overcooked.
More than anything, I believe it just wasn’t quite what I was expecting, leading to moderate disappointment. (But, yes, I ate it, so I guess I wasn’t all that disappointed.)
Overall, though, we were pleased with the dining experience — the value was good and the atmosphere at Pints & Union is tough to beat.
While the regular menu offers just 12 items, which includes the “Side o’ Fries,” there are plenty of flavors to explore, from a quarter-pound brat red lentil hummus to curry wurst fries.
Pints & Union, located at 114 E. Market St. in New Albany, is open Tuesday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight; and Sunday, noon to midnight.