“Warmth, comfort and a package of love.”
Angela Lee, director of The Happy Point Restaurant Group, owns three West Loop dining destinations: Grange Hall Burger Bar, Sushi Dokku and De Cero Taqueria. With the holiday season heating up, I met Chef Lee at her cozy Grange Hall kitchen to learn how to make her mom’s pecan pie, which happens to be the restaurant’s December pie special.
Out of all of Chef Lee’s restaurants (she also owned Sushi Wabi and Veerasway), Grange Hall Burger Bar lies closest to her roots, as she’s able to combine two of her greatest loves – farming and cooking. And whereas many restaurants proudly claim their affinity for this idea of ‘farm to table,’ Chef Lee practices it daily: she and her family (husband and three children) live on their Michigan farm Friday through Monday, and in Chicago’s West Loop the remaining days of the week. She hand delivers much of Grange Hall’s produce directly from her and her neighbors’ farms.
My visit to Grange Hall happened to come during the first snowfall of the year, and as Angela and I sipped tea, ate an incredibly decadent pecan pie she describes as ‘candy in a pie’ and chatted, I peered out the window at the delicate snowflakes and thought that I was in the perfect spot. Grange Hall is warm and cozy, and literally has a ‘barn’ feel – albeit a luxurious barn.
We tied on our aprons and got to work. Chef Lee explained her affinity for her mom’s pie crust recipe, which calls for shortening rather than butter. She also shared a few tips for exceptional crust: make sure to work on a cold surface so the fat (shortening) and flour don’t mix, keep the crust refrigerated when preparing the filling and handle the dough as little as possible to ensure a light, flaky texture. The eggs we used came straight from her farm and enhance the incredibly gooey (in the most mouth-watering sense of the word) pecan filling.
When Chef Lee thinks of pies she thinks of “warmth, comfort and a package of love.” Not up to baking your own pie? You can order homemade pies and ice cream from Grange Hall, online and at the restaurant. You can even tell people you made it. No one will ever be able to tell the difference, as this is as homemade-from-scratch a pie will ever be. But beware – you’ll go back for seconds. There are many tenets Chef Lee lives by, but the most important is that consistency is 100 percent of the game. She’s got that down. Chef Lee explains, “Food has memories. If you give someone a memorable experience, they will come back.”
Natalie Probst Photographs