Union Station Brewery

(Providence, RI) — It’s our first day in Providence, having landed at the airport without incident and hungry for a bit of lunch after checking into our hotel. Downtown is a short walk away, where Google Maps leads us to an alehouse called John Harvard’s or Union Station Brewery, depending on which website you believe. Nevertheless, we’re curious to see what kind of beer they make in these parts and the open patio under the cloudless, sunny sky seems like just the place to cool our heels...

He Fed:

Truth is, I’ve been wanting to get to Providence for a long time. After all, H.P. Lovecraft, one of my favorite and influential authors, grew up here and is buried here. In fact, we plan to visit the grave after lunch! The excitement is nearly too much to bear; thankfully, Union Station has many different beers on tap to calm my nerves.

We score an outdoor table just before the lunchtime crowd from the nearby university swarms in. It’s a gorgeous day and I immediately relax as I peruse the menu. A sampler of their draughts seems appropriate, along with calamari to start. The styles of beer are pretty standard, including a pilsner, a golden ale, an IPA, a copper amber, and the ubiquitous black IPA. They’re all pretty good, but nothing I’ll try to clone at home. The squid, however, is way better than expected. Tender rings are lightly breaded and mixed with cherry peppers, balsamic, parmesan, scallions, and shallots on a bed of wild greens. Pomodoro sauce and chili flakes give it a spicy tang.

About this time, someone up the stairs at the street level bus stop begins shouting. It sounds like a madman—perhaps one who read an ancient tome he should not have—preaching to the masses, warning them against an impending invasion from faceless invaders beyond space and time. People gather round and stare, until finally the police show up to escort him away. Applause all around.

Back to our quiet meal, I find the burgers section calling my name. Specifically, the “Big Poppah” sounds too good to pass up. A medium rare patty arrives on a brioche bun with a deep fried jalapeno popper, avocado, white cheddar, and chipotle aioli. It’s a huge mouthful but I’m up to the task. Although the avocado is a curious addition, and I’m not sure it adds much, the burger is solid. Hand cut fries, likewise, are slightly elevated tavern fare with just the right amount of crisp-to-soft ratio.

A quick run indoors shows me what I suspect: there are different beers available! The bartender recognizes my heartstruck look and offers free samples of those I haven’t yet tried. One sip of the exceptional dry hopped IPA in cask and I go back outside to let Juliet know we’ll be staying for at least one more pint. This restive repast is exactly the fuel for mind and body before we head out for the shadowy, tree-lined pathways at Swan Point Cemetery.

She Fed:

I’ve got a weekday off with my husband in beautiful Providence. The weather is absolutely gorgeous with clear sunny skies, a light wind, and no humidity. It’s a great day for a quick walk so we strike out to Union Station for some beers and a leisurely lunch. There’s seating galore on the beautiful brick courtyard patio and we snatch a table in the shade.

Our server is efficient and somewhat friendly, warming up bit by bit throughout our visit. Given Jeremy’s excitement over this brewpub, I’m a little surprised by the limited beer offerings. Only five beers to choose from? Sadly enough we discover later there are a few more beers available on tap, they just aren’t listed on the menu our server gave us.

We start with the Union Station Calamari featuring shallots, cherry peppers, tomato sauce, Parmesan and chili flakes. It’s served on a bed of mixed greens and turns out to be one of the best calamari dishes I’ve ever had. And considering Jeremy orders calamari often, this is saying a lot! The shallots are caramelized and sweet. The peppers and chili flakes give a nice kick of heat. The tomato sauce is fresh and flavorful, while the addition of greens is unusual but delicious. Best of all, these are very lightly breaded and not too greasy or heavily battered.

Evidently, though, I’m in the mood for more breading as I order the Fish and Chips at the waitress’ recommendation. Two gigantic planks of ale-battered whitefish are served with coleslaw and tartar sauce. The whitefish is mild and sweet with the lightest hint of beer in the breading. The tartar is from a jar and the slaw is overpowered by onions; I skip both. Since I’m already throwing caution to the wind with fried calamari and fish, I skip the chips and opt instead for the Mashed Potatoes Brulee, another dish recommended by our server. It’s not so much a brulee as it is a ramekin of mashed potatoes swirled with sour cream, topped with bread crumbs, and briefly broiled. I do love mashed potatoes and these are fine. Nothing special, despite the swirls and breadcrumbs. In fact, they’re still a bit cold at the bottom of the dish. Maybe a bit more time under the broiler is needed.

None of the beers really stood out to me, but in all honesty I’m not the beer connoisseur. That’s Jeremy’s role. Now, on the other hand, if you need an opinion on mashed potatoes...

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