The thing about Gospel brunches is that either the food is great or the gospel is great, but never both at the same time. So when Joanna suggested we check out the gospel brunch at Union Market, I was supremely skeptical.
Union Market isn’t even a restaurant, you see. At least not yet. It’s a warehouse of heavily curated shopping stalls and dining pop-ups that, together, make one phenomenally high-end market in the middle of Northeast.
It’s also a magnet for families on a Saturday morning. Screaming children and young parents who want to get their fresh-baked bread, their rare fromage, and then head back to their brownstones, strollers and all.
But on the first Saturday morning of each month, Union Market also claims it has a Gospel Choir Brunch. Where on earth do you put a Gospel choir in the midst of all that?
When I arrived on Saturday to meet my girlfriends, I wondered where I’d even begin to look for them in this busy market. And then I realized, Salt & Sundry, of course. Amanda McClements’ gorgeous store of trinkets (two parts Anthropologie, one part Sur la Table) sucks in even the worst of homemakers.
There they were, Brooke and Joanna, ogling very expensive crab mallets and tablecloths, wondering whether Joanna really should invest in that supremely expensive decorative ladder made of vintage beach wood.
Really, girls, let’s get some food.
I dragged them out (well not really; I ended up buying more than them in the end), and we started our stroll around the market hunting for brunch food.
There was the Toki Underground pop-up, which was the first thing everyone saw simply because of the enormous line that wrapped around the other stalls. The ramen shop was making a killing that morning.
Beyond that, we got a bit overwhelmed with the brunch choices. There’s everything from Co Co. Sala to Rappahannock Oysters, TaKorean tacos to Dolcezza Gelato. Where to begin?
The other option is to buy a ton of gourmet food and take it home and make brunch. I did this on my last visit to Union Market: thick pepper bacon from Harvey’s Market, fresh bread from Lyon Bakery, cheese from Trickling Springs Creamery. It was a lovely brunch at home.
After a quick spin around the market, we decided on a strategy for brunch: Snag a table in a less-trafficked area, and then take turns scavenging for food and bringing back our spoils to share. This turned out to be a great plan.
I hit up Red Apron, which looked like a hipster skate shop but was in fact a whole animal butchery and small-batch producer of handcrafted charcuterie. In the market, it’s a glorified sandwich shop, which serves sandwiches with meat from animals that are sustainably raised without antibiotics or hormones and certified humanely treated.
I ordered the Beef & Cheddar sandwich, which came in a brioche hamburger bun, but was one amazing messy sandwich in the end. It had rare roast beef, beer cheese whiz, and horseradish. It was a mess trying to split that thing between three people, but oh so delicious.
I also ordered the Muffaletta, which was a grilled sandwich stuffed with bologna, mortadella, salami, smoked ham, provolone, hot mustard, and olives. All this on grilled housemade focaccia. Now that’s a fine sandwich.
On the side, we shared a couple of salads, a beet and potato mixture, along with a chickpea and olive salad that I wanted to spread on everything I ate.
Joanna went straight to Neopol Savory Smokery, which is based in Baltimore. She brought back thick, fresh bagels, stacked with smoked salmon, the only true “brunch” dish we had that day. The bagel reminded me of the ones I get from street carts in New York, chewy and covered in lots of cream cheese.
She also brought back a gorgeous cheese pie. Neopol offers them with a variety of fillings, like mushrooms, pork loin, or salmon (of course). Ours was delicious and very rich, stuffed with sausage and made with swiss, fontina, gouda, and ricotta cheese in a pastry crust.
Brooke made a beeline to DC Empanadas, where she got a few of the hot filled pastries, along with a pumpkin pop tart. The empanadas were great (though they will always remind me of drunk food, a la Julia’s, or food trucks). The beef one was filled with shredded beef, Spanish olives, roasted red peppers, raisins, onions, and cilantro. The chicken empanada was called “The Badass” on the menu. Nuff said.
But the standout of the day was DC Empanada’s pumpkin pop tart, which isn’t even on the food truck’s regular menu. Both Brooke and Joanna said it tasted like the best pumpkin pie they had ever had.
We had enough food for six people on our table, but we kept picking and trying different things. It was a feast that only a gourmet market could provide. Once we were stuffed, we looked at each other and wondered where all the Gospel was supposed to be.
Alas, at the very end of the market, the Israel Baptist Church gospel choir was singing away. It was just so crowded and bustling and loud in there that you couldn’t hear them unless you had your brunch in one of the chairs right in front of the stage.
Brunch or gospel—I still believe that these are mutually exclusive in Washington. And while the brunch was grand and the gospel was grand at Union Market, they just weren’t really together.
The Bitches say: A. A fabulous, gourmet market for your groceries or your family-friendly brunch. Bring the kiddies (and your patience), not a date.
1309 5th St. N.E.