Even hardcore carnivores will find something to love at this new vegetarian eatery where the dishes are inventive and the flavors are intense.
By Karen Deutsch
Photography by Angel Tucker
Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent Half-star166 Broadway, Providence, 831-0600, providencegrange.com. Hours Open Wed.-Mon. for brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Street parking. Cuisine Inspired vegetarian. Capacity Seventy with a handful more at the bar. Overflow goes to the seating area but good luck dining on a swing. Vibe Rachel Ashwell takes a walk through the woods. Prices Appetizers $5–$6; entrees $11–$16; desserts $6–$9. Karen’s picks Soba noodles with kimchi broth, Korean tacos, quinoa of any kind, dessert of every kind.
Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent Half-star
If anyone can breathe life into vegetarian dining, it’s Kyla Coburn. Known for designing some of Providence's most aesthetically appealing restaurants, her most recent project is the Grange, a plant-based, candle-lit utopia that prioritizes Mother Nature over modernity. Two parts earthy to one part urbane, the space, however, rebrands roots and shoots as a progressive approach to food rather than a throwback to the 1970s.
No doubt vegetarian dining gets a raw deal in reputation, though Robert Yaffe and wife, Uschi, have been reworking its visage for years at Pawtucket's Garden Grille and, more recently, Wildflour Bakery. But it's their newest venture on the West Side, helmed by chef Jonathan Dille, that catapults veggies to cult status. The restaurant, transformed by Coburn, has morphed into a shabby chic wonderland, ensconced in weathered wood and recycled tin. Less restaurant and more residence, much of the space is shrouded in house plants and found art that unveils its intricacies in the shifting sunshine.
Two suspended porch swings and a bevy of mismatched upholstered chairs fill the entryway, as do assorted side tables covered in travel magazines and journey books. Light emanates languidly from suspended muffin tins filled with candles and teal votives hanging above the weather-battered bar. Stools and worn side chairs sidle up to tables, all perched on the planked floor asserting itself through purposely tattered paint. It's an apt aesthetic given that the Grange takes great pride in celebrating what others deem prosaic, elevating the ordinary with a decided sense of laid-back cool. So too are the servers: tatted, pierced and full of love for the local land that delivers the goods. They proudly point to hand-hewn boards that, in worn chalk lines, display the farms responsible for the bounty.
The equally eclectic crowd — kids, college students, septuagenarians — clearly digs the vibe. Dille's food walks the line between retro and innovative, from deviled eggs with sweet pickles to wild mushrooms in smoked miso dashi. Dishes aren't large, intentionally, and while some don't come with sides, they do come with personality. Crostini is topped with mounds of mascarpone-whipped sweet potatoes and a drizzle of red wine ($6) while crepe-like pancakes are rolled around squash and Chinese black beans ($9). Even the short-seasoned fiddlehead ferns are served with a sense of artistry, as are minute Tokyo turnips with almond mustard puree ($9).
Ultimately, the best thing you can say about Dille's food is that it all seems novel, a feat that's often anomalous in vegetarian dining, which relies so readily on salad and Mexican derivatives. That's not to say he can't deliver the status quo with more elan than expected: the house version of tacos consists of Korean-marinated seitan with queso fresco, salsa verde and smoked avocado puree ($8). The flavors are so definitive that the soy tastes as close to — vegetarians turn away! — pork as possible, part of the reason that the Grange will succeed by also appealing to omnivores.
In some sense, Asian cuisine dominates the menu, a language that Dille speaks proficiently. One of the most satisfying dishes is an endless bowl of kimchi broth filled with noodles, mushrooms and a poached egg that thickens the soup the minute it’s pierced with a chopstick ($15). Close your eyes and the dish easily could have come out of the kitchen of a mom and pop noodle shop. But the menu strikes several notes and none more tongue-in-cheek than the chicken fried po’boy, a bevy of battered oyster mushrooms piled high on a pretzel bun with the requisite slaw. That's good old-fashioned redneck eating for Southern shrimp protectors.
Reasons other than the menu define the Grange's charisma, not the least of which is a central bar that makes vegetarian dining, well, worthy of weekend drinks. This will ensure longevity given that bar culture supersedes cuisine and supplants kitsch. Cocktails are a curious mix in that they're classic (brandy and gimlets), though bedazzled with the hipster flair of agave and volcanic salt. But no one feels bad about downing three drinks with their tofu because, in a wonderland, fairies drink plenty of mead, too.
As much as there is to love about the main attraction at the Grange, however, there are even more sideshows to draw in reluctant vegetarians. A coffee bar peripheral to the restaurant makes kale-hearty smoothies, super juices and coffee, in addition to a handful of morning pastries. They also do brunch in a big way. Eggs are served somewhat expectedly in tacos and frittatas but there are some divergences such as pretzel bread French toast served with salted caramel and a roasted portobello sandwich with white bean puree and barely brined sauerkraut.
And if all else fails — quite unlikely — the Grange should at least be known for its superlative desserts that only happen to be vegan. What appear to be dairy on several fronts are concoctions of soy or coconut milk, whipped into ice creams or baked into creme brulee. A blueberry cheesecake — and who doesn't wince at the thought of a non-dairy version? — is as good as its progenitor. With a bright lemon curd and nut crust, it's as unctuous as the old-school variety. The clear winner, however, is a chocolate plate ($9) that holds a brick of ganache that anyone would mistake for a mousse as well as a brownie topped with coffee ice (coconut) cream. One order easily turns into two, though neither gets close to melting before everything disappears. The same holds true for most things at the Grange, which places ambience before agenda and flavor before philosophy. And like the space itself, the Yaffees prove that the things we love the most are often frayed around the edges and worn with affection.