East End Eats: Guilty Pleasures Every Town Needs in Southampton

Who wants a burger?
The Southwest burger at Union Burger Bar has a pretzel bun and comes with hand-cut French fries. Laura Donnelly

Union Burger Bar
40 Bowden Square
Southampton
631-377-3500
Lunch and dinner daily

 

Union Burger Bar in Southampton is the kind of place every town needs. It is small, cozy, reasonable, and open for lunch and dinner every day. It is all about burgers, fries, and shakes.

Union Burger Bar is attached to the much larger Union Cantina at Bowden Square. It has a small bar with about eight stools, two TVs, one big, one little, some high tables with bar stools, and a few other tables scattered around. The pressed-tin ceiling, faux brick walls with great old black-and-white photographs, and dark red curtains give the room a speakeasy feel, and indeed, once upon a time, it was a speakeasy, probably in the Herb McCarthy era. From 1936 to 1986 McCarthy ran the restaurant Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square, where the likes of Irwin Shaw, Gary Cooper, and Babe Ruth could chow down on steaks and swill some swell spirits.

We began our meal with corn fritters, onion rings, and a chopped wedge salad. The corn fritters were good, little fried blobs that were crisp on the outside and tasted like creamed corn — slightly sweet — on the inside. They were served with a little dish of very good, very zesty creamy horseradish sauce. The onion rings were also good, but I think the beer cheese queso dip served alongside for dipping was superfluous. This dip was better than the nacho cheese you might get at a baseball game or movie theatre but not as good as what you can make at home by melting a block of Velveeta with a can of Rotel tomatoes with chilies. 

The chopped wedge salad was “damned adequate” as my father used to say. It was chunks of iceberg lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, good crumbled bacon, and a generous coating of creamy, mayo-y, bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and one guest began her meal with a black and white milkshake. Oof! It was very good, by the way, especially the vanilla part.

For entrees we ordered the BYO burger, a turkey burger, the Southwest burger, and the Black & Bleu burger. Since French fries get their own section on the menu, we were compelled to try the truffle fries, hand-cut fries, sweet potato fries, waffle fries, and, wait, I’m not done yet, the onion hay. 

The BYO burger (build your own) was served on an English muffin, which is my favorite burger bun at home. But here it was not toasted. English muffins have to be toasted! Other than that, it was very nice and cooked to order. The coleslaw on the side was basic deli-style slaw. The Southwest burger was pretty good, but I couldn’t detect the habanero jack cheese on it. The apricot bacon barbecue sauce was an excellent addition, but the coleslaw on top was an odd “Southwest” accent. This burger was served on a pretzel bun. 

The Black & Bleu burger was an eight-ounce burger with bleu cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cara­melized walnut crumble on a brioche bun. It was closer to medium than medium rare as requested, but was still juicy and evidently high quality meat. The turkey burger (the Gobbler) was actually one of the best burgers we tried. Often turkey burgers are dry and dull, but this one was well seasoned and cooked perfectly. It was served on a multigrain bun with Swiss cheese, apricot compote, and avocado slices.

All of the French fry selections were excellent. Hand-cut fries are a lot of work and not many restaurants go to the trouble of making them, so yay Union Burger Bar! The portions were generous as well. The truffle fries had just the right amount of truffle essence, as in it didn’t clobber you over the head with the fumes and flavor, and they had a nice dusting of Parmesan cheese on top. The sweet potato fries were also very good, and the onion hay was excellent, a tangle of fine strings of crisp onion, similar to the famous onion rings at the Palm restaurants.

The service on the night of our visit was excellent. Our waitress, Amanda, was fun and knowledgeable. The restaurant is still very young, but everything runs smoothly. The place was full from the time we arrived (extra early to get home in time for the Oscars) until we left. The crowd was mostly young people, because who else can go out and chow down on burgers, fries, and shakes? 

The prices at Union Burger Bar are reasonable. Starters and salads are $6.95 to $15.95, fries are $4.95 to $10.95, burgers are $10.95 to $17.95, and shakes are $8 to $15.

For dessert we tried one of the “grown up” shakes, the Shakey Bailey, a cookies and cream milkshake with Bailey’s Irish Cream and Stoli Vanil vodka. I had two sips and it was delicious.

Union Burger Bar’s website proclaims “it’s a place with no pretense and is simply about one thing: guilty pleasure.” At this, they do indeed succeed, and at a reasonable price, too.