“I’ve been cooking in Pittsburgh for a hell of a long time,” says chef Derek Stevens a couple days before opening his debut restaurant. Stevens started cooking in Pittsburgh in the ‘90s, and his ties in the scene go deep, having spent the past 10 years with the prominent Big Burrito restaurant group as the executive chef at Eleven, the portfolio’s upscale hit. Stevens has been making a name for himself locally, watching the dining scene blossom in new and unexpected ways, with national food media paying increasing attention to the city. “When I was a line cook, I wanted to be a sous chef. When I was a sous chef, I wanted to be a chef,” says Stevens. Opening on his own “is a lifelong dream,” and a natural extension of his ambitions in the kitchen.
Stevens is going big with Union Standard, which occupies a corner space in downtown Pittsburgh’s historic, and very beautiful, Union Trust Building. The restaurant is two stories, with seats for 170 in 7,300 square feet. On the ground floor is a large bar, with a raw bar built into it. Red banquettes and stools perk up the otherwise neutral space, where the architecture and massive windows play the leading role. On the wall, a local artist has created a mural of the western Pennsylvania landscape. The design incorporates recycled materials, including original tile from the building. “We wanted it to have a classic Americana feel to it,” says Stevens.
Stevens wants Union Standard to be an all-purpose restaurant. “I want it to be fun and comfortable, where people can come and enjoy high quality food and drink and not feel like they have to get dressed up or have a four-hour tasting menu.” To that end, he’s debuting a contemporary American menu featuring elevated classics like burgers, plus vegetables and meats coming off his rotisserie and wood-fired grill. Stevens, like so many other chefs around the country right now, is enamored with the flavor that wood smoke imparts, and cites NYC’s Gramercy Tavern as an inspiration in pursuing that kind of cooking.
Stevens doesn’t hold back from sharing his deepest hopes for his first restaurant. “I want to be among the best,” he says. For him, that doesn’t mean being the hottest new restaurant in town. It means staying power. “I was executive chef at Eleven; we opened in 2004, and to see it now as this blooming business, it's like, holy shit.” That’s what he wants for Union Standard. “I hope in 15 years it’s still here, an institution people can count on.”
- Union Standard Burger — Jubilee Hilltop Ranch beef, "everything" potato roll, cheddar, bibb lettuce, marrownaise, sweet onion, bread and butter pickles
- Warm Potato Bread — Cultured butter, goat butter, smoked squash, and sweet onion jam
- Skate Wing — Cider-steamed clams, wood-roasted delicata squash, and rutabaga
- Wood-Roasted Locust Point Chicken — Hearty greens and sweet onion salad, shmaltz vinaigrette
- Vanilla Dutch Baby — Apple, maple, toasted oat and maple ice cream, candied pecans, powdered sugar
Back in 2015 when Eater’s restaurant editor and roving dining critic Bill Addison asked if Pittsburgh was “the country's next destination food town,” his answer was: Not yet. “The dining scene is still shaping a distinct identity,” Addison wrote. Since then, an Ace Hotel has opened, bestowing its unique sort of hip credibility, the Lawrenceville neighborhood is increasingly a dining juggernaut, and the city’s restaurant landscape got a New York Times writeup. With its grand architecture, on-trend wood-fired cooking, and unabashed ambition, Union Standard might just be the next force moving the needle.