Dinner Date : Union Pizzeria/SPACE
When we were young and single and living in Lincoln Park, our date nights revolved around music: dance clubs like Neo and Octagon, concert venues like Lounge Ax and Double Door, local bands like Material Issue and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Food was an afterthought. We were perfectly happy grabbing a burger and a beer at Kincade’s, or an order of cheese fries at Doggie Diner, or a late-night char dog at The Wieners Circle.
Now that we’re older and married and living on the North Shore, it’s safe to say that our tastes in food and music have evolved. Most of the time, we’re happy to settle in for a relaxing dinner at a peaceful restaurant with friends, then call it a night.
But we still think there’s no better combination than a good meal followed by great music. And there’s no better place on the North Shore to enjoy that combination than Evanston’s Union Pizzeria and its backroom music venue, SPACE.
Union is located in an industrial-chic, loft-like building with exposed brick walls, dramatic lighting, and enormous windows. With its bustling bar and sleek lounge area, Union feels more like a hip city destination than a suburban pizza restaurant. Its clientele ranges from young families to double-dating couples to artsy Northwestern students.
The uniqueness of the space is matched by the quality of the food. Our recent visit was typical of the many excellent meals we’ve had there.
We started with several small plates: the eggplant caponata, a simple dish with tomatoes, capers, and olives; tender calamari sautéed in a white wine and tomato sauce; a lovely bruschetta topped with fava bean puree, shaved radish, and arugula; and the village salad, a colorful Mediterranean salad with a touch of mint. One could easily create a satisfying meal just from a sampling of the small plates menu.
Next, we shared two pizzas, fired up in Union’s wood-burning oven. The lamb sausage pizza was topped with eggplant, olives, and rosemary. The artichoke pizza featured sweet peppers, fresh mozzarella, and garlic. Both rank up there with the best Neapolitan-style pizzas we’ve had.
For dessert, we ordered the vanilla panna cotta with strawberry compote—a refreshingly light way to end the meal.
Union has an affordable wine list, heavy on imports, and an adventurous beer list, featuring craft beers from around the world. We opted for a sparkling Spanish cava and a hoppy Three Floyds Alpha King pale ale.
After dinner, we ventured behind the bar to the concert hall, called SPACE. It’s an intimate room, seating only 250 people. The sightlines are perfect from anywhere in the room, and the acoustics are unparalleled.
Most of the seating is general admission, and if you arrive late for a popular show, it’s standing-room only. We recommend ordering reserved table seating in advance, and you’ll be guaranteed to be sitting only a few feet from the stage, with waitress service from a full bar.
That night’s show featured two excellent singer-songwriters, Natalia Zukerman and Adrianne Gonzalez, whose music reflects a myriad of influences, from folk to blues to jazz to country. They are also visual artists, and they hosted an exhibition of their paintings right before the show.
That unusual pairing is typical of the wonderfully eclectic nature of the bookings at SPACE. On any given night, you might hear an alternative rock band, a jazz quartet, a blues guitarist, or a banjo-strumming folkie. Acts range from talented young singer-songwriters you’ve never heard of to world-class artists like jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and rock guitarist Richard Thompson.
Sure, we’ll still head into the city once in a while to catch a show at The Riviera or The Metro. And we’ll still stop in for a beer or two at Kincade’s—after all, it’s where we first met, way back in 1989. But all these years and four kids later, it’s nice to know that we can experience good food and great music right in the heart of Evanston, and, for just a few hours, pretend that we’re on our first date again.
Union Pizzeria and SPACE are located at 1245 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. For more information, call Union Pizzeria at 847-475-2400, SPACE at 847-492-8860, or visit unionevanston.com and evanstonspace.com.