When UUBU 6 first opened more than a decade ago, more than its peculiar name set it apart. The restaurant became an unlikely destination on the South Side Slopes, serving outstanding contemporary food in a surprising location, a gussied-up former union hall built in 1919 on a narrow, otherwise residential street. (The name, pronounced “ooh-boo six,” is a rendering of the acronym WBU, for Workingman’s Beneficial Union 6.) After a good run, UUBU 6 closed, to the lamentations of its many devotees. Eventually, it reopened, but under a new guise.
We were happy to discover that that did not include redecorating. Part of the charm of the original restaurant was its subtle gloss on the old union hall’s original spaces. One dining room is still painted deep persimmon, with floor-length velvet drapes a lush touch; another’s painted pine floors, plywood paneling and pressed-tin ceiling make us wish the proverbial walls could talk. “WBU” is still etched on the glass behind the wooden bar, and other WBU memorabilia is displayed lovingly, without irony.
It’s the cuisine that is completely revamped from the UUBU 6 of 10 years ago. Where that menu was replete with delicacies such as quail, venison and oysters in velvety sauces, savory ragouts and champagne vinaigrette, the new menu seems to reach back to evoke the hearty, inexpensive yet filling food of the German immigrants who settled the South Side Slopes and founded the WBU: burgers, hoagies and old-world Pittsburgh standards like schnitzel and sole. Throw in some spaghetti, ravioli and a vaguely Mexican approach to grilled chicken, and the menu seemed, frankly, scattershot.
We can’t complain about the value, though. Almost every dish was well under $10, and the portions were tremendous. Chicken strips, at least a half-dozen of them served with a mound of fries, were no tepid planks or modest fingers, but fat, juicy hunks of white meat encased in deep-brown, crunchy panko crust. We ordered them for one of our children, but these would easily satisfy a hungry adult.
The same chicken recurred in the chicken parmesan sandwich, served on a toasted ciabatta. Again, there was plenty of chicken and the melted cheese adequate, but the tomato sauce was a bit scant.
The Buffalo chicken sandwich showcased grilled chicken on more of a soft, hoagie-style roll. Two entire breasts were perfectly cooked to their moist and tender peak. They made for a sandwich so large, Angelique attacked it with a knife and fork. The Buffalo sauce was more timid than she would have liked, and though the sandwich was topped with melted cheddar, it cried out for Buffalo sauce’s traditional tangy counterpart, blue cheese.
UUBU 6’s enormous burger — the menu claimed six ounces, but it seemed closer to eight — was served on yet a third bread, a suitably broad, Kaiser-esque roll that was not exactly crusty, but with more body than a soft bun. Alas, softness described the burger within. Cooked to medium rare, per our request, it was more mushy than juicy, and rather under-seasoned. We do give credit to the kitchen for somehow scaring up worthwhile tomato slices to go on top.
UUBU 6’s fries were a puzzlement. Identified as Yukon golds, they were, indeed, pale gold in color, but their cut was unusual, to say the least: stout as a steak-cut fry, yet short, perhaps an inch or so. As a result, they seemed less like French fries and almost more like a roasted-potato side dish. This might have been OK, but their paleness betrayed insufficient cooking, with neither well-developed flavor nor light, fluffy interior.
The kitchen was most successful with our entrée of pork schnitzel in a sort of gravy with tomatoes. Schnitzel is supposed to be a thin cutlet — the literal meaning of the word in German — whereas this was thicker, akin to the chunky chicken strips. But the pork was tender nonetheless, and the crust held up under the sauce, so we won’t be picky about its name. The sauce was pleasing, not unlike a central European hunter’s stew, albeit without mushrooms.
In its new incarnation, UUBU 6 retains the intimate, clubby atmosphere that made the original so appealing, but the old effortless elegance was undercut by a certain disorganization, with holiday decorations and their boxes carelessly stashed in view of diners. The menu, too, had a thrown-together feel, and while there was evidence of effort and expertise in the kitchen, it was not consistently executed.