Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oenophile at Large: The Grange

I have a lot to catch up on, but I wanted to go ahead and post my review of The Grange.

Hubby and I arrived at Decatur's new Irish pub at about 6:45 and found it to be pretty crowded with only one table available outside and a couple of empty ones inside. We chose seats at the bar and took stock of what had changed since it was the Angel. The first thing we noticed was how much brighter it is inside. The formerly dark walls are painted white, and the carpets have been replaced by wooden floors. Or have they always been wooden? It's been so long since the Angel closed that we couldn't remember. Either way, it's now brighter, although the inside layout is the same with the bar in the center, booths and tables to either side, and the fireplace in the back. It looks a lot more open, but it should still be nice and cozy in the winter.

The Grange is run by four siblings who actually are Irish, and they're hands-on in the running of the restaurant. Colin, behind the bar, took care of us, and we saw the others around throughout the evening. The entire bar, all four sides, seemed a bit much for him to handle, and he and his sister noted that they'll be better prepared next weekend with a bar back. In general, they had only a few of the problems that one might expect for an opening night, for example, the kitchen getting behind and overwhelmed.

Hubby and I started with the Risotto Balls, which are Parmesan risotto with bits of bacon that are breaded and fried and served with marinara sauce. They're an original take on cheese sticks. The house salad is a small plate of lettuce, sliced cucumber, and tomato with a savory oil, vinegar, and tarragon dressing. Hubby got the burger, which was cooked medium and served with "chips" (fries), and he reported that the seasonings in the burger were very good. I had to wait a bit for my Guinness Braised Brisket, which was served with fr, er, chips and a side of peas and carrots. It was flavorful and tender, although I would have liked for some sort of sauce with the meat, perhaps some of the cooking liquid. One thing I appreciated about the brisket is that it wasn't a bit greasy. We made the acquaintance of a nice couple at the end of the bar, and they gave us reviews of their food. The Meat Pie was "a little dry," and the mashed potatoes could have used some gravy, but the Shepherd's Pie was very good. For the sake of completeness, I made a sacrifice for the blog and had the dessert "The Dubliners," which are profiteroles with Guinness ice cream and dark chocolate honey sauce, even though I was already full. They were excellent.

As for libations, yes, it's a pub, so the beer list is over twice as long as the wine list, but both have an interesting variety. I started the evening with a Chouffe pale ale and then went on to sample the house wines, which are from Twisted Winery just south of Lodi, California. I had the Merlot, which is a fairly straightforward berry bomb, the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is still fruity but has a little more complexity and a hint of caramel on the finish, and the Zinfandel, which is everything one might want in a Zin, especially after it breathes a bit, as one would expect from that region. All three wines were very smooth and went well with food. Hubby stuck with beer. Our new friends sampled the beer as well as wine and deemed the 2007 Astica Malbec to be "so-so," but the El Coto Crianza was good.

The bottom line is that once they make the necessary tweaks like putting an extra person behind the bar and getting the kitchen flow worked out, this should be a really fun place to hang out, eat, and drink. I really like that they chose an interesting label for the house wines and that the noise level, even at the bar, allowed for easy conversation. I think that the Irish sibs are well on their way toward making The Grange a true community pub.

Score card:
Atmosphere: Open, light, friendly, good noise level
Food: Very good
Wine list: Nice range for a pub; they don't have the Brick Store's beer list but should have enough variety to make most people happy
Wait staff: Very Good at the bar; seemed to have adequate numbers out in the restaurant
Desserts: Very Good; only two choices, both chocolate-centered (which is fine with me)
Vegetarian friendly? Yes, if they want to mostly stick to starters and salads; only one vegetarian entree
Kid friendly? Surprisingly so with a kids' menu
Would I go back? Yes, regularly

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