A Union well made (PHOTOS)

What happens when you blend the expertise of Jeff Gigante – a 20-plus year veteran of the dining and hospitality industry, Andrew Wright – chief executive officer of Franklin Street, a commercial real estate firm located in Tampa, and Joseph Guggino – a local lawyer and investor with an affinity to the restaurant industry? A next level dining experience, that’s what. 

Next Level Brands was established with the mission of elevating the culinary landscape of Tampa Bay by creating a collection of highly lauded dining experiences. This dynamic partnership brought Forbici Modern Italian to Hyde Park, but that was just the start of big things to come. Recently, their second endeavor, Boulon Brasserie opened to much acclaim in the ever-expanding Water Street and had the honor to be mentioned in Time Magazine’s article of the “World’s Greatest Places in 2023.” 

Next Level Brands introduced their newest concept, Union New American, to the Westshore Business District in April. The union between Chef Adam Polisei and general manager Kal Harris, who connected through Ocean Prime, and the trinity of Next Level Brands, establishes Union New American as the edgy, and innovative, contender on steakhouse row in the Tampa market.

There isn’t an undesirable seat at Union due to the thoughtful attention to detail by Montreal-based architecture firm Atelier Zebulon Perron, who also designed Boulon Brasserie. The lavish, 10,000-square-foot space includes a central bar area, an outdoor patio adorned with flowers that seamlessly blends the indoors and outdoors, second-level rooftop and three private event spaces that can seat up to 150 people. The intention is the ability to transition from a business lunch to a cocktail hour leading into dinner, finally segueing into a club vibe with laser lights and curated DJ’s spinning a different soul in the later hours.

Originally from Michigan, Polesi showcases his passion for late-night cravings with playful versions of comfort food taken to an elevated level. The menu has been in the mental process for five years and encompasses Southwest, Asian, French and classic American cuisines. The dishes center around the fire hearth, incorporating the American white oak and coal flavors. When pressed for a favorite dish, Polesi shares the popular dinner item – General Po’s Iberico Pork is named after his nickname “Chef PoPo.” Polesi freshens the General Tso dish by using Iberico pork, which is pork’s version of Wagyu beef, blending the chicharrones from the pork into the shrimp fried rice, and serving with a scallion pancake and “yum yum” sauce to build the perfect new American taco. Note: this item is not available during lunch hours. 

Cocktails are creatively crafted and delicately presented. The Lychee Lover is a light libation blending gin, St-Germain, lychee and lavender cordial presented with a lovely flower that teases the tongue for the blast of impending flavors to come.

The menu is guaranteed to have a dish to satisfy the most selective appetites. Noteworthy options include Hamachi & Salmon Crudo, Sea Bass Satay, Crunch Love Salad and Ora King Salmon. There is Regis Ova Caviar to accompany the large Hearth Roasted Platter – abundant with King crab legs, lobster, oysters and shrimp to satisfy the posher palate.

The sushi on the menu is not to be overlooked, but instead, something you will regret not trying. The Osaka Tuna roll was perhaps one of the best I’ve had in recent memory and the star of the show, the Union Roll, is one to splurge on. Trust me, it’s worth it. The Wagyu Tartare, with Black Garlic Molasses and Truffle Aioli is just a winning combination. Once you try it, you will want to return for it again and again. 

What is that magic in the Parker Rolls that makes you want to lick the butter off your fingers? It’s just duck fat that is perfectly blended in-house with the butter. No wonder they produce twenty-five pounds of butter gold a day.

The silent sleeper on this iteration of the menu is the Smoked Eggplant Enchilada. This work of art isn’t only beautifully presented, but the melding of flavors will convert anyone that says they don’t like vegan food or eggplants.

Executive Pastry Chef Summer Bailey, who oversees all of Next Level Brand’s pastry programs, united forces with Polesi and levitated his ideas for nostalgic desserts such as Chocolate Chip Cookies and the Apple Hand Pie. The apple pie’s brown sugar butter crumbs, perfectly diced apples and homemade vanilla ice cream with cheddar cheese crisp will have you craving more. It is definitely a contender for one of the top desserts so far.

Next Level Brands understands the dining experience extends beyond delicious food; it includes the ambiance and service. The staff undergoes intense training to ensure they deliver the caliber of service expected of any fine dining establishment and it pays off. It was our server Juan’s second day on the floor and he handled everything like a seasoned pro. Knowing that the Westshore corridor is business-oriented, Union is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Be sure to visit during the day for a different experience from the evening. ♦

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