TAMPA — Jeff Gigante has waited a long time for Union New American to open.
It’s been nearly three years since the restaurant and lounge at Westshore City Center was announced, and roughly two years since the team broke ground on construction. But for Gigante, his latest endeavor feels like a lifetime in the making.
The spot, which opened Tuesday at 1111 N Westshore Blvd., marks Gigante’s 32nd restaurant and the third for Next Level Brands, the hospitality group he spearheads with partners Andrew Wright and Joseph Guggino. Though the group’s other restaurants — Hyde Park’s Forbici and Water Street’s Boulon Brasserie — opened first, Union New American was the first concept planned for the group and epitomizes the company’s efforts in the hospitality world, Gigante said.
Gigante co-founded Ciccio Restaurant Group, the local hospitality empire known for innovative quick-service concepts. At Next Level Brands, he’s taking a different direction, with an emphasis on large-scale, full-service dining experiences.
“I did the first 25 years in my previous group, but I want to do the next 25 with this (one),” he said. “Union is symbolic for bringing people together — a central meeting, eating and entertainment space.”
The restaurant marks the latest debut in what is shaping up to be a busy year for the brand. In January, the group opened Boulon Brasserie, Water Street Tampa’s answer to the modern French bistro, and in the coming weeks, they’ll sign a lease on the space formerly home to Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina at St. Petersburg’s Sundial development (that restaurant will become a second Forbici).
For now, their efforts are all in on Union New American, which is now open as a restaurant and bar and in the coming months will launch a separate, late-night lounge concept upstairs. The yawning 10,000-square-foot bi-level space features a downstairs dining area, a central bar and an outdoor patio with seating for roughly 180 people, combined. Upstairs, there are three private event spaces, with room for 30, 50 and 150 people each, plus another indoor and outdoor bar space.
Gigante tapped the Canada-based firm Atelier Zebulon Perron to design the restaurant (the same firm designed Boulon) and the space features lots of warm light with wood, marble, metal and brass accents.
In the kitchen, two veteran players from the local culinary community are on board: executive chef Adam Polisei and general manager Kal Harris, both who worked together at nearby restaurant Ocean Prime before joining Next Level Brands. The menu, a live hearth concept described as “classic American fare with a global edge,” is anchored by a collection of steaks, salads, sushi and larger entree-style dishes.
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To start, there are warm Parker House rolls ($5); country biscuits with cured Kentucky ham, blueberry pepper jam and pimento cheese ($18); yellowfin tuna tartare served with mustard cream, sweet pickle gastrique and crispy potatoes ($21); and the showstopper hearth-roasted platter, which comes in two sizes — small ($100) and large ($200) — and features oysters, shrimp and lobster with a Calabrian white wine garlic butter sauce.
A selection of five different sushi rolls includes a Korean barbecue salmon roll, made with salmon, cucumber, charred allium, Gochujang, sesame oil and a honey togarashi ($20), and a hamachi and salmon crudo with pineapple, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, avocado mousse and chili oil ($20).
Larger entrees run the gamut from a Green Circle Farms roast chicken with confit vegetables and onion jus ($42) to a Chilean sea bass with sauteed vegetables, lobster jus and chili oil ($58) and a smoked eggplant enchilada with cauliflower, lentils, cashew cream and a pepper coulis ($32).
In a nod to an increasing number of diners with dietary restrictions and preferences, there’s also a good portion of the menu dedicated to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, including roasted carrots with koji tahini, salsa verde and herbs ($13); Japanese sweet potatoes with chimichurri and a miso caramel ($12); and Brussels sprouts with a sesame crema, toasted chiles and garlic ($13).
For now, Union New American will be open for lunch and dinner. In May, the space will launch its upstairs weekend lounge, which will be open from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and feature some reservation-style seating along with live musical entertainment from cabaret singers and local and visiting DJs.
“I wanted a space where you could kind of plan your night out, where you start and finish in one location,” Gigante said.