Union Standard sets a new one as restaurant opens in refurbished Downtown building

DAN GIGLER Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 18, 2017
Full Article: http://www.post-gazette.com/life/dining/2017/02/18/Union-Standard-sets-a-new-one-as-restaurant-opens-in-refurbished-Union-Trust-building/stories/201702180098

It’s quite possible that chef Derek Stevens has the only resume in Pittsburgh — maybe the world — with a direct connection to Chuck E. Cheese and Henry Clay Frick. Over a quarter century his career arc has taken him from a high school job at a North Hills franchise of the kiddie pizzeria to his new restaurant in a century-old building commissioned by the Pittsburgh industrial titan.

After two-plus years of meetings with architects, attorneys, bean counters, builders, designers and developers, all Mr. Stevens wanted was to put on an apron and get back into the kitchen.

“That’s my environment. That’s where I’m comfortable,” Mr. Stevens said.

On Friday night he got his wish when his new restaurant, Union Standard, opened to the public — the first major new restaurant Downtown in 2017. It’s the centerpiece to a $100 million refurbishment and modernization of the historic Union Trust Building by The Davis Companies of Boston.

The bustling bar was packed steadily from the time the doors opened at 5 p.m., with the after-work crowd giving way to casually dapper folks out for the evening. Platters of oysters went out from the raw bar as fast as they could be shucked, and libations poured like ribbons. Crowds ebbed and flowed over the two floors of the dining room.

Union Standard is the first solo restaurant venture for the 42-year-old Mr. Stevens, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who was an integral part of Eleven in the Strip District. He rose to be the executive chef there for nearly a decade before leaving to develop Union Standard.

Designed by Moss Architects in Lawrenceville and spread over three levels, the 170-seat, 7,300-square-foot restaurant features a raw bar and a wood-fired grill and rotisserie. Floors are fashioned from original marble tile from throughout the building. Walnut tables were designed by local artist Tadao Arimoto, and Parisian illustrator and graphic designer Marie-Laure Cruschi was commissioned to create a colorful and stylized wall-sized mural inspired by the scenery of Western Pennsylvania.

The menu is both modern and rustic, and it features meats from regional purveyors such as Latrobe’s Elysian Fields Farm, Bedford County’s Jubilee Hilltop Ranch and Locust Point Farm in Eastern Maryland. The trout are from Pennsylvania streams.

Seth Eidemiller, previously the wine director at Eleven, is the general manager, and Jen Parks, formerly of nationally acclaimed Morcilla in Lawrenceville, runs the bar, which features Pennsylvania beers on draft.

“I’d known for a few years that I wanted to do something else and wanted to move on and try to find what was going to be next for me,” Mr. Stevens said. “In that process, I looked at a few projects that were gonna happen and then sort of fell apart.”

He’d gone out for a jog on Christmas Eve two years ago and was impressed to see a full team of contractors hard at work on the building with the holiday only hours away.

“It really made an impression on me, the commitment they were making to that building.”

Jonathan Davis, CEO and founder of The Davis Companies, grew up in Squirrel Hill and graduated from Allderdice High School. The acquisition of the Union Trust Building for $14 million in 2014 held a special place on a personal level, he said.

Commissioned by Frick and designed by Frederick Osterling, the Flemish-Gothic-style building opened in 1917. Its center rotunda is iconic, and in 1974 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Working with Pittsburgh architect Chris Lasky, The Davis Companies preserved the building’s history while updating it with modern amenities, colorful public art and a LEED Gold certification.

“Without qualification this is the most beautiful building we’ve ever done,” Mr. Davis said earlier this week.

Restaurants were always a part of the plan for the building. Three more are in the works, including Eddie V’s, an Orlando, Fla.-based upscale seafood chain that will open in two weeks. But Mr. Davis was already a fan of Mr. Stevens’ work before he’d ever met him.

“A few years ago I was back in Pittsburgh, and I had had the privilege of dining at Eleven when Derek was the chef, and it was obvious he was a standout talent,” Mr. Davis said.

“This is a property of the highest quality, and Derek is a guy that stands for high quality. I’d never met him but very much had direct connection to his talents.”