Union League Café is frequently mentioned as one of Connecticut’s best restaurants. They’ve won multiple awards in various publications—in fact, it’s one of the more acclaimed places in the state—and they’ve been a New York Times darling three different times. Additionally, Union League’s chef/owner, Jean Pierre Vuillermet is recognized as a Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, translated, a Master Chef of France. Awards aside, Union League Café is set to celebrate what’s arguably its greatest achievement, their 25th anniversary.
To celebrate this quarter century milestone, ULC is rolling out a handful of throwback dishes inspired by their first 25 years. All October long, diners will have the option to partake in a three-course, prix fixe tasting for $55 per person, or $79 if you’re down for carefully selected French wine pairings alongside your meal.
This limited time homage of a menu lets diners choose one appetizer, one entrée, and a dessert. To jumpstart it all, you can choose a peekytoe crab tabbouleh, salmon terrine (smoked in-house), and an endive salad with walnuts and dressed in a luscious brie cheese sauce that adds a touch of funk. The larger plates are where it’s tough to choose. If you do it right, make sure you have a dining companion, so you can try a bunch of different dishes.
Your choices here are pan roasted trout, veal Milanese with homemade fettuccini and osso-bucco sauce, and deviled chicken, a spiced (frequently spicy), Dijon mustard flavored bird with crispy skin. There’s another soul-satisfying dish that you shouldn’t sleep on, ULC’s leek and macaroni gratin, basically French mac & cheese in a sharp parmesan sauce with decadent black truffle shavings.
There’s a sweet ending to it all but you’ve got a tough decision; tarte tartin made with caramel covered Bishop Farm’s apples or chocolate Plaisir, with a brûléed caramel top and layers of airy vanilla and chocolate mousse atop a thin vanilla biscuit.
It’s a solid deal, especially at the Union League Café, a place that’s popular for special occasions or that “treat yourself” night out. ULC’s month-long celebratory menu won’t only make prospective customers curious about what dishes they may have missed in the past, it might get you in the door for the first time.
I’m guilty of this.
Union League Café was always a place I knew of, I just didn’t know much about it, except for its reputation for putting out top notch French food and doing so with impeccable service. Still, somehow, I never went in. I figured I’d save it for a big moment, maybe for when my mom came up to visit. Other times I likely spent my time in New Haven scarfing down whole pizzas, slurping noodles, or drinking old fashioneds like all the world’s bourbon was evaporating. All those times, Union League was right there waiting.
When I finally did go in for a preview of the very anniversary menu I already told you about, I came away with a few more nuggets of info about Union League Café’s staff and its historic building.
I learned more about Chef Jean Pierre
Vuillermet is a third-generation chef. He’s from Aix Les Bains, France, a popular tourist destination at the foot of the French Alps known for its arts, a bustling downtown, and rich history. Vuillermet, since opening Union League Café in 1993, has another restaurant in Connecticut. In 2010, he opened Bar Bouchee in Madison.
They take their wine program seriously
An important part of the Union League Café dining experience is the wine program. Jean-Michel Gammariello is the restaurant’s general manager and sommelier. He has assembled quite a French provincial wine collection at Union League Café. When asked how many different bottles the place has, his reply, “A lot.”
Gammariello, also a trained chef, has been on board with ULC for over 20 years and has been friends with Vuillermet even before they teamed up in New Haven.
Wine is cool, but cocktails…
Union League Café might not get enough credit for their mixed drinks. The menu includes seasonally focused creations and legendary ones. There’s a few barrel-aged cocktails listed, including a Negroni that spends 30 days in an ex-Manhattan barrel, resulting in what was a less assertive version with a touch of sweetness.
Side note: If you do sit at the bar, the house-made chip blend (golden and red beets, potato, and sweet potato) could be one of the better (addicting) bar snacks anywhere. And they’re free!
But are you gonna talk about the building???
The space itself is stunning. Stained glass windows, dark tones of paint, painting that pop with brighter colors, primo woodgrain. Yeah, don’t be afraid to dress up a bit here, fancy pants, this is the place for it.
It’s historic, too.
The site itself was originally where New Haven’s first mayor, Roger Sherman lived. Sherman is the only American whose name appears in the Declaration of Independence, Articles of the Confederation, and the Constitution.
The building you see now was first erected in 1860 and was the town house of local industrialist Gaius Fenn Warner. In the 1880s it was bought by the Republican League Club, now known as the Union League Club, a men’s political organization that remained just that into the 1940s.
Another fun fact: The space once contained an opera theater and a bowling alley.
It’s all a lot to digest. I hope it’ll do for you what it did for me and it’ll get you through the door of this timeless New Haven restaurant. If you’ve been previously, the tribute menu should give you reason to return.
Félicitations, Union League Café, on 25 years and counting!
Union League Café
1032 Chapel Street; New Haven
(203) 562-4299; https://unionleaguecafe.com/