You might say that Grange Hall Burger Bar isn’t just a farm-to-table restaurant, but rather a farm-to-farm-to-table one.
That’s because owner Angela Lee not only has farmers and local purveyors showing up at her burger bar’s kitchen door; she also regularly goes from farm to farm in southwestern Michigan — where she lives part-time on her family’s blueberry farm — picking (and sometimes even handpicking) produce and other goods for her West Loop restaurant.
“Frankly, I feel like we’re legit,” says Lee, in a recent interview. “Just yesterday, I carried three flats of strawberries, 10 pounds of rhubarb and 16 dozen farm eggs to the restaurant from Michigan. I picked fresh flowers out of my garden and stopped to pick wild daisies.
“I’m going to the farmers, and that’s a full-time job, let me tell you. It’s a lot of running around.”
Lee’s farm-fresh finds are incorporated into the restaurant’s short but sweet menu of potluck supper-style snacks, salads, sides and burger fixings. And they’re showcased in rustic, fresh-baked pies and house-spun ice creams, which in turn can be whirled into creamy milkshakes and malts.
“In theory, it’s a fast-food restaurant. But not in terms of quality,” says Lee of the burger bar concept. “To me, it’s really important to know what we’re eating, and that it’s really and truly whole food.”
So freshly ground burgers are made from 100 per cent grass-fed, drug- and hormone-free beef. Grange Hall also offers free-range turkey burgers and house-made veggie and grain patties. All are served on puffy poppy-sesame seed buns.
Lee’s mother, Barbara Hepler, a devotee of from-scratch cooking, passed on her kitchen ethics and a collection of wholesome recipes to her daughter. “A lot of [the menu] is inspired by her,” Lee says.
Therefore, there are no shortcuts. Chunky hand-cut fries, for example, are prepared in a multistep process that can take up to 24 hours from start to finish. Lee employs a baker, who exactingly follows 12 of Hepler’s seasonal pie recipes — one of which is featured each month.
Looking for a place to sate my hungry brood of teens, I treated them to dinner recently at Grange Hall Burger Bar.
“Can we order an appetizer?” is the standard question with this bunch.
Passing on the seasonal salad and chili fries, it came down to Hepler’s onion dip (one of Lee’s childhood favorites) with old-fashioned chips or fried fresh veggies (all $7). The veggies won out.
Paired with a piquant horseradish mayo, hot-from-the-fryer, beer-battered green beans, asparagus, green pepper, zucchini and jalapenos were divvied up and devoured.
Then we were on to our burgers, which are invitingly offered in six- and nine-ounce portions ($9.25/$12.25). (Lee, the mother of three young girls, also offers a smaller kiddie burger.) In the name of research, I went with Lee’s wild rice-vegetable burger. The crisp patty features a medley of finely chopped veggies — zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms and more — along with rice, potatoes, oatmeal and other ingredients. It’s a tasty option if you’re vegetarian or have dietary restrictions. I couldn’t help feeling a bit envious of my kids as they greedily delved into their ridiculously tasty grilled beef burgers. Fortunately, I taught them how to share.
Lee offers a variety of Midwestern cheese and other local toppings ($1 each), so guests can build their own burgers.
“Even though there are only three things [beef, turkey and vegetable], there are a million different burgers you can make,” she says.
My youngest (The Girl) and middle son (The Connoisseur) like it simple, so they ordered their patties with American cheese and gooey caramelized Vidalia and red onions respectively. My eldest, The Eating Machine, prefers to go all out, so he topped his nine-ounce big boy with Applewood smoked bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and a sunny-side up farm egg.
From the sides section we chose fries and a tasty turn on baked beans ($3.50). Here, sweet and sticky Northern beans are infused with bits of tender fennel.
Shakes ($5) — a simple blend of ice cream, milk and cream — were a given with this crew. Once again, I was glad my kids have good manners, as all provided mom with ample sips. The Girl selected basic chocolate banana nut, while The Connoisseur went with the more adventurous tangy strawberry-rhubarb walnut cheesecake.
As noted, all ice creams are house-spun, save vanilla and chocolate, which come from Wilmette’s legendary Homer’s ice cream. Anybody who has tasted Homer’s knows that The Eating Machine’s vanilla shake did not disappoint.
Me, I was saving room for a slice of Barbara’s pie ($5), dolloped with sweet, freshly whipped cream. During our visit, Grange Hall was featuring crumble-topped strawberry rhubarb. (Cherry and peach are up next.) Amply filled with natural fruit, the thick-crusted slice reminded me of my own mother’s lovingly made, amazingly wonderful pies.
So indeed, it’s not pie-in-the-sky hyperbole when Lee claims that her pies are “delicious.”
Grange Hall Burger Bar
844 West Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60607