After opening its first U.S. location in Clearwater back in 2012, Canada's Union Burger has steadily expanded into the United States, opening its second location here in Orlando in ... uhh, well, this year. OK, so their ideas of Hamburger Manifest Destiny have hit a snag with economic downturns, fluctuations in foreign currency and the poutine trend becoming passé, but the residents of Lake Nona seemed quite content to have UB in their neighborhood on the Saturday night I visited – families, especially. The burger joint is brought to you by the Obsidian Group, the same folks who operate another north-of-the-border outfit – Coffee Culture – which opened in the North Quarter earlier this year. The Canadian Chain Invasion (Yogen Früz, Paramount Fine Foods ... Smoke's Poutinerie, perhaps?) is upon us, people!
Now, allow me to set my patriotic maple-leaf leanings aside for a moment and say this: Union Burger should be ashamed of the traditional poutine ($5.99) they serve to the hardworking Americans of Lake Nona. The fries were dry and lifeless, and when I asked if cheese curds were used in this "traditional" poutine, the friendly girl behind the counter proudly declared, "Oh no, it's just chopped-up mozzarella." Great Prime Minister's ghost! Chopped-up mozzarella!?!? Where's Dudley Do-Right when you need him?
If the dish did have a saving grace, it was the gravy (dark-brown and thick), which is also offered as a topping for burgers. I didn't have any slathered on my fuego burger ($7.99), though – the gravy wouldn't have meshed well with the copious amount of goat cheese. Additional toppings of jalapeños, chipotle sauce and onion rings couldn't really rescue this burger from its dry, overdone patty. Making your meal a combo for an extra $3.99 gets you an order of fries, onion rings (which we quite liked) or fried pickles along with a drink, bottled water or beer, which includes Cigar City Florida Cracker and Maduro ales. Quantum Leap wines ($6.99) and milkshakes ($3.99, classic; $4.99, premium) are offered for an upcharge ($3.99 extra for wine; $1.50 for milkshakes), but the latter caters very much to the sweet tooth in you.
The all-beef Angus hot dog ($4.99) was only slightly better than the convenience-store variety. It, too, was overdone. Way overdone, in fact, to the point where the wiener was charred black.
Continuing in a similar vein was the chicken club sandwich ($7.49) with smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. It all held together nicely, but the chicken was as dry as Canadian wit. All of this aridity aside, the servers and staff were very helpful, well-meaning and polite ... "Canadian," you might even say. Another plus: the kids' combo, which gets you a little burger, fries, drink and a cone for just $5.99.
The space, decked out in red, black and metallic fixtures, is laid out somewhat oddly. As you enter, you'll walk right into a line of patrons queuing up at the counter, requiring you to negotiate sideways as you would on the way to an airline lavatory. A waist-high dividing wall with a TV on top bisects the room, marring the flow somewhat. I'm not sure of the design aspects and food quality of UB operations in Ontario, but in this foray south, something clearly got lost in translation.