In March, the Union Jack's chain opened in the space at 10400 Patuxent Parkway that was formerly occupied by That's Amore. While it fills the same square footage, I'm told, it's a completely different look. The interior appeared to be three times the size I remember from its Amore days. My Anglophile daughter, fresh from a London vacation, wanted to check the place out.
Outside, an accurate British pub exterior is complemented by a large patio dining area complete with small service bar. Inside, the Union-Jack-motifed space goes on forever and is divided into four distinct dining/drinking areas. We sat in what they call the "grand dining room" — a big bar dining space is, I believe, what we call it this side of the pond.
1:18 p.m. The host greeted us and led us to our table. The waiter appeared a minute later to take our drink and appetizer orders. We requested the Welsh Rarebit starter because I've always wanted to try Welsh Rarebit. I still do. Jack's serves a cheddar fondue rather than the sort of open-faced grilled cheese sandwich I expected. The dip itself had the consistency of Campbell's Tomato Soup with precisely the same tang. The toast, however, was nice, curiously sweet, and we ate every last crumb of it. Not bad in all, but a jolly disappointment if you're looking for what I consider classic rarebit.
My Brit-watcher delighted in spotting hints of London, like the Big Ben knockoff and the iconic telephone booth, and laughed when she asked directions to the restroom and was told: "Turn right at the Tower Bridge" (a painting). But she was quick to pronounce the place British in theme only — a point made abundantly clear on Jack's website. Given Britain's dour culinary reputation, maybe that's a good thing.
1:46 p.m. Entrees arrived seconds after we rejected an offer for more "rarebit" toast. If in fact they keep the bread coming till the fondue runs out, the "rarebit" is a steal at 6 bucks. I ordered the burger with Stilton cheese. Extremely good idea. Who knew Stilton plays with so well with bacon? If only they'd delivered the burger medium rare (emphasis on rare) rather than middlin' well. Pet peeve. Deep breath. The Stilton was a really nice touch. Good bread, too.
My daughter liked her cottage pie: peas, carrots, onions and ground beef topped with mashed potatoes presented in a little cast-iron casserole. She said it wasn't as "soupy" as she expected, more like home-made. Is that good? She said yes. She also ordered a Strongbow, a cider popular in Britain.
The tiny (but filling) cottage pie at $13 and a glass of Strongbow at $6 gave Union Jack's an annoyingly overpriced feel. Scrap the appetizer and it would still be hard to come under $30 for lunch for two. But Jack's is a good pick as an occasional treat. Our service was excellent: timely, unobtrusive, congenial. And the space is fun. It cries happy hour, of which there are two, the first from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and again from 10 to close.
2:03 p.m. Check paid. In the end, neither of us felt we'd been transported to the auld sod. With flat screens viewable from wherever you're seated, Jack's looks more like an American sports bar with a funny accent. It's another nice upscale chain choice for nearby office workers, shoppers or, should the Stones come to Merriweather, a place to start or finish the festivities.
Union Jack's Columbia
Where: 10400 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia
Lunch hours: Specials, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., kitchen operates till midnight
Lunch entrees: $9-$15
Bar snacks (appetizers): $9-$11
Sandwiches and entrees: $9-$28
[Key: ✭✭✭✭ Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]
Dining time: 45 minutes