The Grange Opens in Harlem Tomorrow

Long-time West Harlem residents Roy Henley and Rita Royer-Henley are showing their neighborhood some love with their new comfort food restaurant in Hamilton Heights: At 4 p.m. tomorrow, the couple will throw open the doors at The Grange Bar & Eatery (1635 Amsterdam Avenue) to showcase the spot's new drink menu via a soft opening.

The unveiling will reveal a 74-seat restaurant designed to look like a farmer's kitchen, a space Henley said that he wanted to be open and inviting. The owner did time at GMT Tavern, Swift, and Puck Fair, and he's enlisted chef Alan Vargas to create a menu for The Grange that focuses on seasonal, organic ingredients.

"We will have something for everyone," explains the owner. "It will not be your ordinary menu." That list will roll out in two weeks.

In the meantime, you'll be able to sample 11 signature cocktails designed by Bobby Hiddleston of smash hit Financial District cocktail bar The Dead Rabbit plus a variety of craft beers on draft.

And once The Grange is in full swing, look for it to stay open late: "I'd eventually like to stay open until 4 a.m. every night because I know there a lot of service industry people who live up here and work downtown," Henley says. "I'd like to be a stop on the way home. It's nice to go for a drink when you get off of work at one or two in the morning."

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Whatever you do, The Grange Bar & Eatery, don't fire your chef.  He or she is doing a remarkable job.

Not only was this recently opened (June 2013) restaurant half-full of customers at 5:30PM on a Tuesday, it's also currently under a scaffolding, obscuring its entrance -- it's in that high of demand.

The fact is, it's a thoughtfully appointed place with a pressed tin ceiling in a neighborhood hungry (perhaps literally) for a pleasant, high-quality eatery.  Fortunately, the Italian restaurant Coccola (it means "hug") is two blocks down, but The Grange is a cut above.

We ordered two appetizers, the tomato salad and the fried squash blossoms.  The presentation was comparable to what we've had at Craft, the Union Square Cafe or other high-end restaurants much farther downtown.  The taste was comparable as well, if not better.  Of particular note was the sauce on the gorgonzola-stuffed squash blossoms.  It had a tang that was indescribably good.  Truly noteworthy.

My wife and 6 year-old daughter split the grilled cheese sandwich as an entree.  My daughter finished her half, a true sign of quality.  My wife raved.  It was the two types of cheeses (which escape me now) that impressed her, as well as the way the tomato was grilled.  

I ordered the crab cake, on the recommendation from the very friendly server, who was from Maryland, where they know a thing or two about crabs.  She was right, to a point.  The spices and other flavorings were excellent.  I'd have preferred the meat to have been more chunky, and for the crab cake to have been more crisp.  

Also, the crab cake did not come with a side.  I had to order The Grange's well-made fries separately, and they ended up being -- of course -- a superb complement.

Washed it down with a drink I order virtually everywhere:  a shandy.  My wife, who usually can't stand my signature lemonade and lager beverage, actually enjoyed stealing sips of the shandy I had at The Grange.  It was the handmade lemonade that made the difference.

Overall, it was a surprisingly lower-in-Manhattan, casual gourmet dining experience Uptown.  A very pleasant, gratifying dinner.  One last thing to note:  just like many gourmet restaurants lower in Manhattan, the portions were not large.  My wife cheers this fact.  I, who prefer to spend $70 (including tip -- not bad) and leave full, would have preferred just slightly larger portions.

Bottom line, though, The Grange is a gem in a neighborhood that's rapidly changing for the better.  The restaurant is one notable sign of Hamilton Heights' improvement.