Since its opening last week in the spacious and sunshine-friendly main street space that had once been home to San Juan Bakery, the Union Café has shown its spirit as a fine dining restaurant, in unfussy clothes.
“Whatever we do, whether it’s a burger or a Philly cheese steak, it’s going to be the best quality we can find,” Kerzner says, adding, “Why can’t we be five-star?”
While true that most “five-star” restaurants are more apt to offer steaks than steak sandwiches, the Union Café proves that a dining experience need not be fancy, or expensive, to be a luxury.
Take the Union’s hamburgers: All are made from 35-day-aged ribeye, sirloin and filet mignon that is ground in-house for a burger that is unlike any you can find in your average burger joint. Even the bread nestling your burger or sandwich at Union Cafe is a big step above the expected: All are made special-order by the Mennonite-owned Valley View Bakery in Delta, where Kerzner has been buying hoagie rolls and hotdog and hamburger buns for a decade.
In fact, it was those same-recipe hamburgers that put the Skier’s Union, Kerzner’s first area restaurant located at the base of the Telluride Ski Resort’s chairlifts in Mountain Village, on the map. After deciding last year that it was time to branch out from the Skier’s Union, Kerzner closed the Telluride institution to pursue smaller, more family-oriented cafes in the area. He opened the Biker’s Union in the Harley-Davidson building in Montrose last July; the Union Café’s opening last week represented the budding of the Union family tree’s third branch.
With three recognized regional restaurants now under his cap, Kerzner may seem like the type with restaurant ownership built into his DNA. But Kerzner actually entered the restaurant business over a decade ago toting a long background in the oil and gas industry. He was also a partner in a boat manufacturing plant in Florida. While he is still involved in both of those enterprises, its in one of his Union restaurants that Kerzner spends most of his time.
And while the Union name became regionally renowned on account of its matchless burgers, Ridgway’s Union Café is much more than just a burger joint. The menu is packed with other favorites, like its selection of Philly sandwiches (all made with in-house shaved prime rib,) BLTs stacked high with thick slices of Applewood smoked bacon, Boar’s Head hot dogs, and when the pizza ovens are fired up next week, New York pizzas. The Union Café will also offer specialty burgers made from locally raised yak and bison.
Diners may feel overwhelmed by the Union Café’s menu giants, like the Union Burger (Kerzner’s favorite, topped with American cheese and bacon and smothered in their famous red sweet pepper relish) or New Jersey Italian Philly (a hoagie loaded with shaved prime rib, pepperoni, Italian sausage, sautéed onions and peppers doused in marinara sauce and topped with cheese,) but dessert is worth saving room for. Kerzner is quick to point out that his New York cheesecake, like his Philly sandwiches, are the “real deal” – which is why he doesn’t call it New York-“style” cheesecake.
Staying in the theme of offering American diner favorites that burst the boundaries of the traditional, the Union Café will also serve up to five different flavors of Jackson Hole Soda Company sodas, which are now made just down the road in Palisade. “I’m trying to draw people away from that Pepsi-Coke pattern,” Kerzner says of the Jackson Hole sodas, which are all made with real sugar and include unique tastes like sarsparilla, strawberry-rhubarb, huckleberry, black cherry, orange crème, and of course, root beer. You’ll even get your soda served in a frosty mug, and later this summer, you’ll have the option of dropping in a scoop of ice cream for a refreshing treat.
Also on tap for later in the summer will be the Union Café’s full bar, the perfect complement to the restaurant’s large outdoor deck (which is ornamented with the old Skier’s Union’s chairlift benches crafted from Telluride’s original chair 3) and live music performances on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Union Café on the strip in downtown Ridgway is open “eight days a week,” serving lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.