Restaurant Review: Union Cantina of Southampton

Union Cantina dish
Union Cantina dish. Photo: Barbara Lassen

Restaurateur Ian Duke opened Union Cantina in the former Southampton Publick House site on Bowden Square this past June. This new restaurant’s kitchen is led by executive chef Scott Kampf, who also works at the Southampton Social Club with Duke. The Cantina was a very busy place during the recent Jewish holidays, as it’s family friendly and offers plenty of parking. It’s also a large space, for the East End. Plus, the restaurant has just launched its Union Cantina Loyalty Program, which gives participants 15% off meals year-round.

I stopped by for dinner with my friend and writing buddy James. We’re about to get to work on a screenplay together and agreed that a non-business dinner would be a good start to renew our collaboration. We also agreed that imbibing a series of margaritas was not the way to launch a project, though the fact that topping them with Grand Marnier makes them into “Meltdowns” made them very tempting.

Union Cantina’s signature cocktail, the Cinnamon Sol, struck me as an appropriate opening foray. Sol means “sun” or “sunshine.” A mellow yellow in color, my Sol of Don Julio Reposado Tequila, pineapple and fresh lime was strong in a good way—it took me back to holidays I barely remember. The finely ground cinnamon sprinkled on top of its foam and ice cubes was not out of place. I stirred it in for a nicely balanced beverage.

I’d been to the Cantina this past summer with my husband for lunch. We appreciated the fast service. As professional eaters we “just said no” to the complimentary (and nicely salty) tortilla chips and salsa. James and I indulged.

Tacos. Photo: Barbara Lassen

And James enjoyed some bottled Modelo Negra Mexican beer with his meal. He started with the melty Queso Dip, the ultimate in rich creaminess.

When our server Taylor brought bottles of Tapatio and Valentina to our table, James noted, “I like my hot sauce!” He applied it liberally to his entrée of three soft Short Rib Tacos with fresh tomato, black bean and avocado relish, and mole cream.

I was glad that James helped me to devour my appetizer of a Mexican Pizza. The “crust” was light and crispy but there was a lot on top—black beans, halved heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced black olives, pico de gallo and a Mexican cheese blend with a latticework of guacamole and sour cream squeezed over it. Taylor warned us that there were jalapeno peppers on this dish, but they weren’t noticeable. We discovered that it was best to grab two slices at a time and fold them inward to keep all the goodies and goo intact. This could be a messy-fun dish for young eaters.

I ordered a Pollo Tirada from the list of Deconstructed Enchiladas—who knew that enchiladas were in need of deconstruction? Chef Kampf, apparently.

This chicken dish is prettily presented, with its bright green avocado topping crowning a layered stack of ingredients, amid a pool of colorful enchilada sauce. There was more pulled chicken involved than I could eat. Not that it was over-seasoned—it was a generous portion and I wanted to save room for dessert.

Tres Leches Cake
Tres Leches Cake. Photo: Barbara Lassen

James and I split a piece of Tres Leches Cake, which was topped with blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and toasted coconut. James also enjoyed a cup of espresso to gear him up for his bike ride home. I wasn’t sure if he’d ridden his motorcycle or his bicycle to Union Cantina, and when we stepped out into the crisp evening air, James’ bicycle was neatly attached to a very large tree on the property. Peddling into the night seemed like a really good way to end the evening of indulgence in this autumnal Hamptons atmosphere.

Union Cantina, 40 Bowden Square, Southampton, 631-377-3500,

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