Beyond the Noodles
I was recently invited to a dinner at year-old Union Republic in the Historic area of Jersey City. A supporter of local, sustainable, organic products, Union Republic serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Opened in November 2013, Union Republic is the brainchild of Chef Owner Gregory Torrech and his business partner, Noah Sexton. The dynamic duo isn’t new to the Jersey City restaurant scene, having opened Modern American Eatery, which closed due to lease disputes.
The menu is broken into bowls, plates, butcher selection, and sides. The bowls refer to the various ramen noodle dishes featuring noodles by award-winning Sun Ramen. The options range from A Hen Full ($13) – chicken meatballs, dashi and shoyu broth to the popular Nose to Tail ($15) – pork belly, crispy pig ears, seared heart in sofrito shoyu broth. Plates are just that, entrée-size dishes with a selection of interesting ingredients that I look forward to discovering on future visits. Some of the favorites are the whole grain mustard spaetzle ($14) – bone marrow and pork ragu with confit tomatoes and the warm octopus salad ($14) – fingerling potatoes, chorizo, frisée and cherry tomatoes. Butcher selections are meat cuts from the butcher case and offered at market pricing with two sides. The sides are scalloped potatoes ($10), market vegetables, forchette potatoes, and baby green salad (each $8).
Chef Torrech was born in Puerto Rico and studied at the Lincoln Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. His and Noah Sexton’s motto is “Eat Noodles, Be Happy.” I can get behind that concept.
Our group enjoyed a seven-course dinner paired with cocktails and wine. The menu was as follows:
First course: deviled eggs with crispy pork jowl
Second course: Nani’s Pierogis with apple slaw
Third course: butternut squash and uni soup
Fourth course: sweetbread tortellini with Parmesan brodo
Fifth course: pan-seared tilefish with beets three ways
Sixth course: crispy pork shrimp with leeks, saffron aioli and spicy broth
Seventh course: moon pie
What I liked best about the meal was the proper use of seasoning. I’m not sure when some other New Jersey Chefs will fully grasp the concept of salting their food, but it’s definitely not an issue with Chef Torrech—nicely done.
The standout dishes of the evening were the deviled eggs, the pierogis, the butternut squash soup and the moon pie. The deviled eggs benefited from the crispy jowl, a very tasty bite and a great way to pique my interest about the rest of the meal. The pierogis were created by the sous chef using his grand-mother’s recipe and I dare say she’d be most proud of the tradition her grandson chef is carrying—simply delicious and I enjoyed the apple slaw and its crispiness paired with the rich, buttery pierogis. While it appears butternut squash soup is on most menus in the Garden State these days, none I’ve had are as flavorful and interesting as this uni butter version: very satisfying on a cold evening. The moon pie ended our dinner on a whimsical note and I thought the sprinkling of sea salt contrasted nicely with the dark, rich chocolate.
I had high aspirations for the ramen as I’ve yet to find a really great version in New Jersey but the noodles were overcooked and lacked that chewy toothiness I expect from Sun Noodles. I’m not giving up as our group was large and I know it can be difficult to serve this somewhat temperamental soup to a large party, all at once. I will be back!
With a brand new liquor license, the bar turns up exciting cocktails using the latest, most interesting techniques: Bunsen burner rum anyone? The bar overlooks an interesting vertical garden, which helps give the somewhat industrial look of the space a warm and almost homey feel.
On my next visit, I’ll be sampling the crispy cod croquette Mazeman ramen bowl with roasted fennel and miso butter and the warm octopus salad with fingerling potatoes and chorizo.
I very much liked Chef Torrech and his team’s focus on fresh ingredients and a menu that is created on the fly based on what’s sourced that day—and what excites the staff in the moment. I expect great things from these guys and look forward to my next visit.
340 Third Street
Monday through Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Hours and prices are subject to change.
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.