Regional Organic Produce and Food Products Inspires The Grange
Like a Traditional Grange, the Providence Restaurant Supports Farms and Provides a Hub for Community
From the outside in, The Grange feels as though you’re stepping into an earlier era, when granges were some of the first community buildings set up in a farming region. Thus, Kyla Coburn’s design—reclaimed wood, porch swings, glass insulators, brown and rust barn-like colors in ceiling and walls—makes so much sense, given the vegetarian restaurant’s focus on connecting with local farms and food producers.
Without strict adherence to re-creating a historical scene, the decor definitely sets off images from a simpler century, when most food came from local farmers, most families used ingredients that were in season and many home cooks relied more on vegetable dishes than main meat courses.
“We wanted it to have a reclaimed and home-steady feeling to the space,” says Jonathan Dille, executive chef and general manager of The Grange. “We wanted an area to hang out [the porch swings] and we wanted to make sure the bar was spreading out into the restaurant—the big table in front of the bar [seats 12+] helped with that.”
The Grange, opened in 2013, is the third business that Uschi and Rob Yaffe have established in the greater Providence area; they opened the Garden Grille Café in 1996 and Wildflour Vegan Bakery, Café & Juice Bar in 2010, both in Pawtucket. Their mission is to raise diners’ awareness of how tasty plant-based meals can be and, in the process, introduce them to a healthier lifestyle.
The emphasis is on regional organic produce and food products, whenever possible, along with local beer, wine and in-house inspired cocktails.
A small side room at The Grange, with a window to the kitchen, is called the Chicory Coffee & Juice Bar and Vegan Bakery. It opens at 8 am, and many customers get their juice or joe to go, though they can hang out in the “lounge” area of the restaurant.
Dille started cooking in traditional seafood houses in his hometown of Philadelphia. He then worked at the Garden Grille while he was attending college at Johnson & Wales—a total of five or six years, he estimates. He took a break and went back to Philly for a while, where he worked with noted veg-chef Rich Landau and with Ross Olchvary at his restaurant called Sprig & Vine.
“That was a good learning time for me,” he recalls. “I was in the breadbasket of Pennsylvania, with all kinds of produce and mushrooms. It was there that [my cooking] expanded the most.”
Dille’s vision for cooking at The Grange in contrast to Garden Grille was, first of all, to have a larger space, to do “a lot more from scratch.” That includes his own pickling, fermenting, baking and—one of his favorite comfort foods from Philly—making his own pierogi.
Dille sees the cuisine at The Grange as “a little more sophisticated” and less “like short order” than at Garden Grille, whose kitchen was 300 square feet compared to The Grange’s 800, plus another 1,000 square feet in the basement, where a lot of fromscratch items are accomplished.
Indeed, the dinner menu has entrée items with many moving parts: The winter pierogi have a potato and sauerkraut filling that will adapt to spring/summer ingredients but the plate also includes red-wine-braised mushrooms and a cashew cream. The curry dish has a hearty roasted vegetable served with a coconut lentil dal, a cilantro chutney and the crisp Indian wafer called papadum. Three dishes utilize seitan from Blackbird Foods in Queens: two kinds of tacos and a steak-like grilled seitan slathered with a Korean chili-and-soy-sauce condiment called gochujang.
Dille admits that he “sways more toward Asian stuff” but his menu really is about “What’s next?” in seasonal ingredients.
“We’re not trying to be preachy or to make people vegetarian,” he emphasizes. “We’re just here to serve good honest food. That’s part of the reason we don’t market it as a vegetarian restaurant and we don’t want a negative connotation of ‘vegan’ on menu items.
“We want our customers to think about the food first,” he continues. “We don’t want them to make allowances for it being vegetarian but rather just that it’s good.”
Another draw for The Grange are the house-made cocktails, which change frequently. Most of bar manager Kayleigh Speck’s creations start with a familiar liquor (vodka, rye, gin, brandy, rum) and end with an unusual herb, fruit or vegetable. Examples are Great Scott (gin, cassis, maraschino juice, lime, Angostura Bitters and rosemary); First Frond (vodka, grapefruit and fennel); and Tesla Coil (rhubarb liqueur, vermouth, lemon and sugar).
Wednesday and Friday evenings also pull in customers looking for live music with their drinks and food. Chrissy Stewart was so successful in creating an audience for the local and regional musicians she booked on Wednesdays that the music has expanded to Friday nights and every other Sunday.
Dille is looking forward to the “fresh and green veggies” of summer and The Grange’s outdoor tables on Broadway: four four-tops plus a long 10-person table.
By responding to customers’ likes and dislikes (fewer small plates, more music) Dille and his crew have made The Grange a hopping neighborhood spot. Considering the restaurant choices on Broadway and nearby Federal Hill, that’s nothing to sneeze at!
Johnette Rodriguez is a food, travel and arts writer published in Yankee, Saveur, the Boston Globe, the South County Independent and the Westerly Sun.