Union Market at The District: A Dining and Shopping Mecca
by Linda Milks
Now that holiday shopping is almost over, how about adding a little fun for yourself by exploring all that small, boutique shopping can offer? Union Market at 2493 Park Avenue in Tustin, California, at The District Promenade is just the place to do that. The District is easily accessible—typically no more than an hour from almost anywhere in Orange, LA or Riverside counties. After you have shopped and enjoyed Union Market, catch one of the new movie releases at the AMC Tustin 14 or even try your luck at bowling at The District Promenade, just a stroll around the corner from Union Market.
Union Market offers an artisanal marketplace of unique, chef-driven restaurants as well as shops of fashion and lifestyle in an industrial-designed building with an open-air feel.
A few weeks ago I traveled with fellow IFWTWA (International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association) members to see what Union Market was all about.
As you enter the 22,000-square-foot Union Market, you notice that all halls lead to the Central Bar. We were treated to a fabulous cocktail prepared by Andrew Parish, the bar director. This mixologist knows much about creating the perfect drink, including using shrubs and all fresh ingredients. The Spicy Cuban he served was a hit with all of us with its mix of dark rum, agave, lime juice, Champagne, mint, lemon peel and Angostura Bitters.
One of my favorite restaurants at Union Market is The Kroft, and owner Stephen Le shared his tasty Porchetta Sandwich (moist pork roast rolled around stuffing) as well as Poutine (French fries, cheese curds, and gravy). This is comfort food to the max!
Portola Coffee Lab served us a beautiful, rich Cappuccino to accompany our sandwich. This outstanding coffee shop was selected by Roast Magazine as the 2015 Roaster of the Year.
All of this rich comfort food was followed by poke from Cubed Poke Restaurant. Cubed offers many fresh and creative poke dishes and we savored the delicious Lilo Bowl made of ahi, kale, and mandarin oranges. Cubed Poke is in the process of opening at Union Market.
Next we learned about how chefs used to prepare meals on large steam ships on the Mississipi. Take a trip into the Kettlebar Restaurant and you will see. Those large hanging stainless steel steamer pots are made to sway as the ships sway, and the steam tank on top is what cooks the meals. Kettlebar may be on solid ground, but the atmosphere is reminiscent of steam ships, and the food is straight out of New Orleans. The spicy Gumbo with Sausage was poured steaming hot directly from the stainless steel pot into our bowls. Aromas of all those wonderful Cajun spices wafted through the air, and their flavors transported us to that food mecca of New Orleans.
A good dessert should follow all of this food, and Belage Gourmet Bakery, a truly French bakery, plans to open soon. We had the opportunity to taste their Vietnamese Iced Coffee as well as macarons that melted in our mouths. This bakery will be a welcomed addition to the Market.
Speaking of sweets, The Dirty Cookie offers one of the most unusual and clever desserts I have ever seen. This little shop serves up several types of cookies (including chocolate chip) in the shape of a shot glass. The inside is carefully hand-painted with Belgian Chocolate after the cookie is warmed. Then you choose from three types of milk to fill your cookie shot. This was scrumptious!
An anchor restaurant for Union Market is Hatch. We met with owner, Leonard Chin, and managing partner, Frank Laguna. The setting evokes a feeling of being in a 1950s diner. This is such a fun place! You can pick and choose the slider of your choice. Of course there is a Cheeseburger Slider in addition to the more unusual ones like the Oyster Rockefeller Slider. What could possibly be better with these sliders than a Tiki Cocktail? Don The Beachcomber invented this drink in the 1960s in Hollywood and soon the drink became popular at Trader Vics Restaurant. The Tiki Cocktail (Mai Tai) served at Hatch is a combination of both recipes, and it is full of exotic, tropical flavors.
As if we hadn’t had enough to eat, the Crepe Coop indulged us in a masterful creation of a gigantic crepe that enveloped ice cream and a variety of fresh fruits. This crepe could easily have been shared by several people, but we all managed to delve into our own. The Crepe Coop’s crepes are prepared in the Japanese style of a street crepe so that you can enjoy this decadent treat and window shop at the same time.
In addition to all of this enticing food, there are shops where you can purchase original and creative items from small business owners, such as Luella Boutique, Artisan Candle Co., OC Hit Factory, Apples and Oranges, and Woodsnap.
I will be returning soon to this amazing location to browse (and probably buy) and to treat myself to taste treats galore. Union Market is a unique shopping destination for those looking for an out-of-the-ordinary shopping experience.
Photos taken by Linda Milks and Todd Montgomery.