Reno has long been a college town. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t spot Wolf Pack license plates on the road and team spirit regalia at local businesses. The building at Ninth and Virginia Streets near the south end of the University of Nevada, Reno has housed a number of college hangouts over the decades, but Union, “The U,” has staked its claim as the best yet.
Although the outdoor signage includes the phrase “family friendly,” the place didn’t seem ready to welcome business at noon on a winter Saturday. Once inside, we couldn’t help wondering if the heating bill had gone unpaid—and the front door was left open for quite some time.
There appeared to be some question as to whether or not we’d be served food “this early” in the day, or whether we’d even be able to order drinks. But after 20 or 30 minutes, the confusion settled down, and we were able to order—although our jackets stayed on throughout the visit.
We started with garlic cilantro shrimp sticks ($10), three grilled skewers of medium-sized shrimp, bell pepper and grape tomato, served atop a bed of purple cabbage with cilantro lime and sweet soy dipping sauces. Everything about this dish was good. Next was a fresh and flavorful serving of sweet chili lettuce boats ($9)—leaves of romaine filled with salad shrimp, purple cabbage, cilantro and peanut. We also ordered a bowl of feta-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates ($7). They were great on their own but extra special when dunked in the shrimp skewers’ dipping sauces.
From the list of sandwiches and burgers, we sampled a Frito bacon burger ($10.50), with a housemade patty covered in cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and house burger sauce and corn chips. I couldn’t see anything resembling chips in the mix, but, while munching, I did notice an occasional crunchy note. If they were there, they must have been pulverized and blended into either the sauce or the burger meat itself. The beef was cooked to order—medium rare—and the overall result was pretty tasty. The burger came with plenty of crispy bacon. The veggies were fresh, and the burger sauce appeared to be cousin to honey mustard. A healthy side of well-seasoned, battered fries was served on the side, with a likely housemade, somewhat chunky ketchup—definitely not Heinz.
There are salads, pasta and chicken wings on the menu, but we were all about a pair of thin crust pizzas to complete the meal. Our caprese pie ($12) was a little singed on the edges and topped with plenty of mozzarella, tomato, basil, red sauce and balsamic vinegar drizzle. The sauce could have used a little more zip to counter the balsamic sweetness but was enjoyable, nonetheless. The Roman pie ($13) with pesto sauce, mozzarella, feta cheese, artichoke heart, arugula, cherry tomato, roasted garlic, jalapeno and lemon juice was good also. The contrasts between sharp, bitter, sour, earthy, spicy and sweet in this pizza was something else, and the toppings were well supported by a nicely crisped crust.
Despite the initial hiccups, service was friendly and relatively efficient. The food was above average for what I expect in a college hangout. And though I had intended to take leftovers home, we left with empty hands and full bellies.