Comfort Oriented 

A Field Guide to Township and Range

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THE MENU at Township and Range makes promises similar to that of an ambitious all-American brewpub—but unlike virtually every brewpub I've ever visited, the food can be as good in person as it is in print. Dishes here aren't merely copywriting meant to conjure up hearty, blue-plate nostalgia, but scratch-made and unpretentious combinations that ring true as comfort food. The kitchen's fundamentals—and intentions—seem solid as they near the three-month mark, though room for improvement exists in several details.

To be clear, Township and Range isn't a brewpub—menus of this homey stripe just remind me of them—it's an attractive and refined casual neighborhood restaurant focused on American classics. The well-spaced dining room features a long, deep bar, and is well lit by the wall of windows that faces SE Hawthorne. At peak happy-hour capacity the noise approaches a din, though conversation somehow remains manageable. When the outsized alley-facing windows are rolled open, the room blends seamlessly with the outdoors and breathes in the relaxing evening air. Aesthetically, it's attractive and clean—not quite a date spot, but a respectable respite from home or one's tired roster of mid-price standbys.

Their version of the iceberg wedge salad ($7.50) eats gratifyingly well, and it's the best I've had in town. A fresh blue cheese dressing perfectly binds the generously supplied egg, bacon, and cherry tomatoes, and the finishing crunch and sweetness of fried shallots completes the rich, yet refreshing, flavors.

A well-made Reuben ($9.50, and all sandwiches and burgers come with fries, onion rings, or salad) is hard to find, and they've built one of their stand-out items with quality ingredients: house-made corned beef, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing meld creamily together with Swiss inside grilled Grand Central rye. The meat is cut thick, and falls apart at the touch, with glistening rinds of melting fat sticking photogenically out of the sides. The Range burger ($9) is a fresh 1/3-pound patty on a toasted Grand Central bun, and arrives in a cloud of irresistible char-grilled aroma, but needs to be another ounce or two heavier after cooking to achieve full payoff.

The beer-braised pork shank ($15) is a behemoth of tender, moist, perfectly cooked meat, glazed with an intense, delicious pork crackling and caramelized onion reduction, somewhere between a demi-glace and Marmite. As with most entrées, a side or two from a list of 10 (braised greens, mashed potatoes and gravy, excellent stewed yellow lentils, etc.) is yours to choose. The three-piece buttermilk fried chicken with cornmeal crust, together with its two sides, is presented beautifully. Although the crust was a bit shy of truly crisp, it adhered well and was interestingly seasoned with a hint of smoked paprika. For $15 with two sides, this plate could easily feed two.

Township and Range boasts a pastry chef of their own, scratch-baking galettes, churning ice cream, and assembling a fantastically silken and light-bodied salted caramel cheesecake ($6). Their signature idiosyncratic pastry, the "Brookie" ($6), is a chocolate chip cookie baked inside a brownie, but other than coming across like a big dense cake with chocolate syrup and ice cream, it's no more than the sum of its parts, and best ordered for the kids.

There are several easy holes to patch. A gluey, leaden macaroni and cheese ($5) with an odd hint of smoked paprika is sure to displease diners of any age. A sweet potato au gratin ($5) is extended with too many unpeeled russets, diluting texture and flavor. Buffalo chicken wings ($5) were generic and rubbery. The roast beef ($15) with a salt-and-garlic crust, simply described and evocative of an old-school carvery, had me piqued—but the meat, while rosy and juicy, didn't provide much in the way of a contrasting seasoned crust, and the horseradish cream sauce would have made more sense had it been a roasted-vegetable-thickened pan jus.

Cocktails were overly strong, leading to remarkably fractured flavors and off-putting burn. The long list of house specialties leans heavily on fruit juices and only occasionally checks in with the odd adjunct. On one visit, our two cocktails—the Samvossey ($9, whose abundant lemon juice curdled the oils in its Fernet, which clouded like a cooling miso) and the Benchmark ($8, an undistinguished punch)—went nearly untouched.

Township and Range is a perfectly enjoyable evening of familiar food, particularly for their fully outfitted happy-hour menu. The staff is friendly and quick, the antics of children are well absorbed by the space, and the tab is modest. The balance of good food done well offsets these early misfires, and the integrity I sense in the kitchen suggests continued improvement.

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Sun-Thurs 4-10 pm, Fri-Sat 4-11 pm, happy hour 4-6 pm daily

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