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Home / Articles / Eats / Food & Drink /  Cage-free, ...
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Monday, Nov 28, 2011

Cage-free, grass-fed eats at Hillcrest’s The Range

Meats are juicy, but could use a bit of help in the seasoning department

By Jenny Montgomery
therangesandiego Thumbs up for The Range’s chicken sandwich.
- Photo by Jenny Montgomery

I have this anxiety about eating in large groups. I always feel like I’m imposing terribly on a restaurant staff when I roll into any place with a posse larger than six people. Oh, sure, they know what they’re doing, and we’re paying money to dine there, and I just need to get over this particular Catholic-guilt complex. But I always feel a sense of relief when I find a restaurant designed for big, boisterous groups of people. The Range in Hillcrest is just such a place, with a food-conscious philosophy that counteracts any lingering sense of imposition you may feel about intruding on the nice people who work there.

The Range is all about animals that have been free to frolic. All of their meats—bovine, fowl or any other tasty-fleshed creature—are “cage-free, grass-fed.” So, you can feel good about the chicken you’re eating—she thoroughly enjoyed her last days before becoming your sandwich. And that fatty brisket you’re about to shove into your maw? It came from a cow that blissfully ate sweet, sweet grass instead of—gasp!—corn.

Located on University Avenue, The Range shares a corner with The Ruby Room nightclub and has a bright, shiny disposition. There’s plenty of seating upstairs, downstairs and along the bar, as well as in a more private—and, ironically, caged-looking—area called “The Chicken Coop.” I’m guessing this is where the free-range high-rollers sit in the evening. Needless to say, feel free to arrive with a large and jolly group; they’ll take care of you and your boisterousness.

I love a good breakfast for dinner, and at The Range, breakfast is served all day. However, if you visit on Saturdays or Sundays, you’ll find the breakfast menu is expanded a bit more until noon and 2 p.m., respectively. I’m particularly looking forward to going back to try the potato-chip chicken tenders and waffles, but since I’m battling pregnancy-related anemia (I’m thinking of hosting a telethon for myself), I opted for the red-meat-laden Farmhand during my recent brunch-time visit.

The Farmhand reminded me of a traditional Irish breakfast, with fried mushrooms, two eggs and half of a large and delightfully misshapen heirloom tomato. But along with that came the star of the plate: a plentiful pile of soft strips of brisket. The meat was fatty, tender and—not particularly flavorful. Curses! I hate to get all Cooking 101 up in here, but, seriously, people: Season the meat before and during cooking. Salting it at my table just makes the meat taste salty. I thought we as Americans were supposed to be obsessed with the Food Network. They cover this topic repeatedly. Maybe I just got some under-seasoned pieces, or perhaps someone took one look at me and worried about my blood pressure. Either way, this is a beefy pet peeve of mine.

More impressive in terms of texture and flavor was the free-range chicken breast; I tried it grilled on a sandwich. Grilled chicken breasts, at any time, in any place, are generally flavorless masses of rubber. Not so at The Range. The breast was juicy and authentic. It’s easy to forget how processed our birds have become; tasting one the way it’s meant to taste is almost disorienting to one’s taste buds. But I like it.

After last week’s annual festival of gorging on enormous, questionably raised birds, gather a large gaggle of pals and try nibbling on what The Range has to offer.

Write to and Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.