The center of gravity among notable new Buffalo-area restaurants has shifted south in the last year. Call it the Hamburg Effect.
With a tidy little menu that includes oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches, pastrami on rye for lunch and a cheeseburger, it’s trying to be more of an everyday place. The Grange’s success is in making the everyday extraordinary.
That breakfast sandwich could be egg and cheese on a house-baked croissant ($6). That pastrami ($12) is thick, smoky, spice-crusted slabs on crusty rye bread, with a jolt of mustard and pickled tomatoes on the side to crunch on between bites. Everything on that plate was made at The Grange, and it made for a swoonful pastrami encounter. They would have sliced it thinner at Katz’s, the famed New York pastrami cathedral. But my moans were real.
Owners Brad and Caryn Rowell, a chef and a designer, grew up in Hamburg, and returned to town several years ago. The former Tina’s Italian Kitchen, originally built as the Hamburg Grange, a meeting place for farmers, has been opened up into a communal space again.
Lightened with white walls and blond wood, the room has a bar on one wall, an open kitchen on the other, and a watering station by the main dining section. The original pine floor, marked with age, hints at the heritage of the century-old room, where Rowell serves a menu that draws most of its meat and vegetables from New York farms.
At breakfast, customers line up to give their order to the cashier and pay, then servers find them with food. It’s the same setup for lunch; only dinner is full service.
[RELATED: Last week's dining review on Black & Blue]
Breakfast choices included sandwiches made with local eggs, sausage, cheddar and charred chile mayo on a housemade biscuit ($6). An array of breakfast pastries like palmiers ($3) and cinnamon rolls ($4.50) are also available.
Two salads (pear-walnut, kale Caesar, $6), three sandwiches, including a grilled cheese with tomato soup ($8.50), and the pastrami, headlined lunch. Other outstanding dishes included hearty chicken soup with kale, farro, carrots and slices of ginger ($7). Then there was a well-seasoned hummus, falafel and pickle plate ($9) served with laffa, pita-like bread, baked to order, a rare joy still warm from the oven.
The evening menu is broader, 14 small and large plates, six pizzas, oysters, charcuterie and cheese. At dinner, I was recognized at the door.
The hits started with a breathtaking citrus-marinated scallop ($4) sliced and splayed across a coaster-sized cracker dabbed with chile aioli. Dotted with bits of pink grapefruit and radish, and shreds of fresh mint, it was at once cool and spicy, rich and refreshing. (The grapefruit, plus lemons and oranges that showed up throughout the meal, were grown in Florida by Thorpe’s Organic Family Farm of East Aurora, testament to Rowell’s investment in ingredients.)
Charcuterie ($16) was an intricately wrought showcase of cured meat, with pickles and a beet-cured hardboiled egg. Duck mortadella, studded with pistachios and peppercorns, found an unexpectedly satisfying fruity-sour foil in Concord grape mustard.
Silky chicken liver mousse was topped with maple-blueberry aspic, to be spread on pistachio financiers, or the ample supply of toasted bread. Ciccioli, a slice of crumbed-and-fried pork terrine, came with a Dijon mayonnaise.
Steak tartare ($12) touched with mustard and anchovy got a boost of earthiness from a crunchy counterpoint of carrot and beet chips. Roasted leeks ($9), edges turned to savory caramel in the 900-degree pizza oven, were gilded with mustard vinaigrette, sourdough crumbs, shaved parmesan and a soft-yolked fried egg that oozed richness into the sauce.
My only full-fledged disappointment was with the roasted oysters ($15/6), where chili garlic butter overshadowed fine shellfish.
Grange pizzas are among the best Neapolitan-style pies around. Intense heat produces dark spots on the crust and a puffy-crispy bite with a wisp of smoke. Quality tomatoes and cheese made the margherita ($12) satisfying, but the brussels sprouts and bacon ($16) won hearts with its undertones of Pecorino Romano and garlic cream. Unfortunately, an overdeveloped crust tipped toppings into the center.
My favorite large plate was a half-chicken ($23), partly deboned and pan-roasted. It was an exemplar of bronzed skin and moist flesh that tasted like chicken, not white meat. It arrived on a bed of creamy white beans lively with garlic and herbs, sluiced with pan juices and a squeeze of charred lemon.
Four big scallops ($25) arrived expertly winterized, presented on French lentils and celeriac puree, cabbage, apples and brown butter, with pickled shallots for tang.
Braised beef short rib ($25) came on cheddar polenta, with roasted romesco cauliflower, oyster mushrooms and a welcome dusting of fresh-shaved horseradish. The meat was gnarlier than expected, but plenty flavorful.
Desserts ($7) included outstanding lemon macaroons, the delicately puffy French sandwich cookie, filled with grapefruit buttercream, their sweetness offset with paper-thin dried grapefruit. Another winner was a coffee-laced Swiss roll, a spiral of chocolate cake filled with meringue, served on crème anglaise and topped with coffee whipped cream.
I cannot explain why two of the best new restaurants in the area opened a few months and a few blocks apart in Hamburg. I can only congratulate the townsfolk on their good fortune. Is it karma balance for the lake effect snow? Beats me. What I do know is that I wish every community had a place like Grange Community Kitchen.
The Grange Community Kitchen - 9 plates (out of 10)
Where: 22 Main St., Hamburg, (648-0022)
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Price range: Breakfast, $3-$8.50; lunch, $6.50-$16; dinner small plates, $6-$23; large plates, $12-$25.
Parking: Street, lot across street.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Gluten-free options: Squash and ginger soup, roasted half chicken, plus many that can be made so.
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