Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Grange: A delicious trip down memory lane!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado, http://Sofritoinmysoul.blogspot.com

As I entered the restaurant, I couldn’t help, but feel nostalgic.  As a child, I walked into this space more times than I could remember to buy sandwiches for my Catholic school field trips.  Back then, it wasn’t The Grange Bar and Eatery, it was a Blimpie’s.  Long gone are the heroes and potato chips! They’ve been replaced with organic meats, Multigrain breads and bean sprouts; as Bob Dylan once said, “The times they are a’changin’!”

In the 1980s, my section of Harlem (now more commonly referred to as Hamilton Heights) was full of "mom’n’pop" restaurants and small businesses.  These days, gentrification and urban renewal have taken away some of the local fare and substituted it with small cafes, gourmet delis and trendy restaurants.  The Grange Bar and Eatery is one of these new up-and-coming eateries. 

The Grange is a moderately sized restaurant with wooden tables, exposed brick walls, and a coffee bar.  The decor is modern, the ambiance is festive, and the clientele is a mixture of neighborhood locals and City College students and faculty.  I love The Grange’s huge windows, which face Amsterdam Avenue and allow you to people watch as you dine.

As my server handed me the menu, she noticed I was staring out the window and asked me if I was waiting for someone; I replied, “I’m just enjoying the view of my old neighborhood.” She said, “Well, welcome back home!  I hope you have a good visit back!”  The Grange’s servers are always friendly and courteous.  I’ve had several wonderful conversations with other servers on previous occasions; someone there knows how to hire excellent wait staff!

As I looked out the window, I saw an old neighbor of mine walking past the window with a coffee cup in his hand, it was from Café One on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and W140th. A few doors down from The Grange, Café One is a trendy spot for City College students to read, write papers, and congregate.  What they don’t know is that before these kids had their little cliché café, it was my neighborhood bicycle shop.

When I was ten years old, my father bought my first and only bicycle there.  I loved that bike; it let me explore my neighborhood and was the only exercise I enjoyed.  He was proud of me for learning to ride without training wheels. I racked my brains trying to remember what happened to it, but I couldn’t remember.

Hunger brought me out of my nostalgia, so I reviewed the dinner menu, which is divided into four sections: Fromiage and Charcuterie (Cheese and Sliced cured meats), Appetizers, Salads, and Entrees. Check out the Grange’s menu at: http://thegrangebarnyc.com/#!/menu/dinner/ 

Curious to sample the Fish Tacos, Lamb Sliders and the Grilled Cheese sandwich, I asked my server which of these appetizers was the most popular and she replied it was a tie between the Fish tacos and Grilled Cheese.  As much as I love grilled cheese, the description of the Fish tacos (Tempura battered cod, capered tartare sauce, cabbage, pickled radish and avocado) won me over.

Thinking about the grilled cheese sandwich reminded me of the diner next to my father’s old bodega.  It was owned by a friendly Greek family, which we affectionately referred to as “Los Griegos” (The Greeks in Spanish), who served typical diner fare with classic Greek dishes like Mousaka and Spanakopita.  Growing up, I ate their grilled cheese sandwiches with onions rings all the time.  Unfortunately, the diner closed 2 years ago and was replaced by an Italian restaurant called Coccola, which has become popular with the same crowd that frequents The Grange. 

The amazing smell of my fish tacos snapped me back to the present.  The tempura battered cod was soft, flaky and flavorful.  The cabbage was crunchy and fresh; the sweet avocado balanced the delightfully briny taste of the pickled radish.  The creamy and rich Capered Tartare sauce added a wonderful tangy flavor to the dish. The appetizer was superb and told my server that if they added one more taco to the plate and maybe some pico de gallo, they could serve it as an entree.

Curious to try a new entree, I ordered the Spinach Ravioli (Baby Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli in a Meyer Lemon Poppy-seed Buerre Fondue with shaved carrots and rainbow micro-greens) instead of my standard Roast Chicken or Black Bean Burger (both are also amazing).   

As I waited for my entree, I heard a few City College students talking about a new Indian restaurant opening up two blocks away.  Instantly, I remembered that the Auto-parts store under my mother’s apartment building had closed and that a banner hung on the awning advertising the opening of an Indian restaurant.  The Auto-parts store had been there for decades; the owner was one of my father’s friends.  I loved the dirty jokes and other inappropriate subject matter I learned from the mechanics that hung out in front of the shop.  I guess the spicy language will be replaced by spicy curry and tandoori. 

Before too long, my entree arrived; the moist ravioli had an amazing rich and creamy ricotta filling.  The Lemon poppy-seed fondue sauce gave the dish an enjoyable acidic and savory flavor.  The crunchy rainbow greens and shaved carrots imparted a refreshing sweetness and slight bitterness that perfectly complimented the meal.  The combination of flavors and textures was excellent and well balanced; the genius of this dish was its simplicity.

Businesses in Harlem will always come and go, but my memories of the old eateries and small businesses that gave it character will always be with me. Despite these changes, Harlem remains an incredible place to dine.  Go make some memories for yourself at The Grange.  Don’t take my word for it, go taste for yourself!  Buen provecho! 

The Grange Bar and Eatery 
1635 Amsterdam Ave.
(212) 491-1635 
Website: http://thegrangebarnyc.com/
HOURS: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-4am and Sat.-Sun. 10:30am-4am

ATMOSPHERE: Causal and fun

SERVICE: Excellent

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational

KID FRIENDLY: Not really

RECOMMENDED DISHES:  Spinach Raviloi, Roasted Chicken, Fish tacos, and Black bean burger

BEVERAGES: Soda, wine, beer and other assorted beverages.

PRICE RANGE: Check the menu: http://thegrangebarnyc.com/

poon.com/r/3/1763486/restaurant/Harlem/The-Grange-Bar-and-Eatery-NYC">The Grange Bar and Eatery on Urbanspoon

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