Monday, October 4, 2010

The Little Grill Collective

  • Location: 621 N. Main St. If you're heading north on Main, look for the brightly-colored Our Community Place building on the right. The Little Grill is just after that, on the left. If the tire shop isn't open, you can park there, but otherwise, stick to the street. Hippies, use side door.
  • Website:
  • Food profile: Hippie.
  • Local meats: Yes
  • Price range: Entrees generally are around $8. LGC just redid their pricing so that, after taxes, you're always paying in whole- or half-dollar increments. Just less fiddly, yes?
  • Take-out: Yes! But they don't seem to advertise it--I just happened to ask once, and they do it, in eco-friendly containers, of course.
  • Warnings: 
    • No plastic! Bring cash, check, or a friend you can dupe into buying your meal. 
    • Sunday Brunch is pretty awesome, but when JMU is in session, be prepared to wait. Possibly for a long time. Outside.
  • Specialties: For breakfast, be sure to check out the blue monkey, a banana and blueberry pancake. For lunch or dinner, Go Ask Alyce is a classic, as is Ron's Mexi Plate.
  • The one thing I would improve about LGC is: Put sweet potato fries on your menu!
About the Little Grill:
Well, I should just air my bias here and now. LGC is my favorite restaurant in Harrisonburg, bar none. Why? Well, the food is great--you can't beat it for the price. The staff is friendly. The business model, where the restaurant is owned by the workers, means that every staff member cares a lot about making it great. It's a good place to see and be seen--I run into people I know every time I go. The main reason, though, is that they serve the food of my people. I grew up in a hippie community out in the booniehollers of wild and wonderful West-by-the-grace-of-God Virginia. When I went to college, I was a member of a vegetarian co-operative kitchen. The decor in the LGC, ranging from a Gonzo stuffed animal to a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr., is so similar to that in my uncle Stump's house that I did a doubletake the first time I walked in. The music, whether new grass or Bob Marley, is always something that I heard at parties when I was a kid. When I opened the menu for the first time, I saw that LGC has a tempeh reuben, and when I bit into it, it tasted just like the ones Julie used to make in our college co-op. 

When I need a taste of home, I hit the Little Grill. If you didn't list "hippie" for your ethnicity in the 2010 census, YMMV.

So, I love the food. I do. There are a few things that aren't great--the soysage is a bit bland and crumbly, and the biscuits they use for their biscuits-n-gravy wouldn't pass muster at most self-respecting southern kitchens. A couple of minor flaws don't change the fact that LGC is an awesome restaurant. The ingredients are fresh, high-quality, and (where possible) organic and locally sourced. The last time I was there for lunch, I saw staff accept a delivery from Radical Roots Farm, of Keezletown. Although LGC's fare is mostly vegetarian, they also feature organic, free-range, and local meats. If you haven't tried free-range meat before, you're missing out. In my family, we're all beativores--we eat the happy animals. Happiness is delicious. LGC is one of the few places in Harrisonburg where you can count on some deliciously happy chicken. 

Breakfast is a great meal at LGC. The coffee is fair trade organic stuff, and $2 gets you a bottomless cup. There's a featured pancake every month, and it's always creative. My favorite so far this year was the chai pancake--an intriguing concept, well-executed. My husband nearly always gets the bricker's son, which is an egg, fried in the middle of a piece of bread, and covered with bean chili. Although I'm a big fan of the huevos rancheros and the breakfast burrito, no discussion of LGC would be complete without mentioning the Blue Monkey. It's a blueberry/banana pancake, and it's incredible. Go on, order a tall stack of blue monkeys. I dares ya. (there's even a Blue Monkey t-shirt now!). 

Not a morning person? Go by on Thursday for dinner--it's Breakfast for Dinner night.

Practically everything on the lunch/dinner menu is wonderful. Personally, I'm a big fan of the tempeh reuben. It's a grilled sandwich, but not too greasy, and the sauerkraut is just the right level of sauer. It's a bit messy, though--definitely a two-hand sandwich. If you're not in the mood for a sandwich, check out the Mexi-esque fare. It's more hippican than Mexican, not too spicy, but filling and yummy.

For dinner, be sure to check out the specialty nights. Besides Breakfast for Dinner, they also have Mexi night (Tues) and Down Home night (Fri). I have to admit to being skeptical about Down Home night--a menu from the collard greens, corn bread, and catfish chapter of the Great American Cookbook. Can hippies really pull off classic southern cooking? It turns out...yes, they can! It's definitely got a hippie twist--the gravy is "groovy" (vegetarian) and the chicken is free-range, but those adjustments are definitely improvements.

Other events:
Concerts, Bingo, open mic, World Cup--there's always something interesting going on.

To give you some idea, here's what happened the last time I was at LGC. I had my three-week-old son with me, and while my sister and I were debating whether to get the Go Ask Alyce or the Breezer, he started to fuss. After a moment's hesitation, I decided to nurse him, covering up with a receiving blanket. This was the first time I had ever nursed in public, and I was pretty nervous about it. I don't think I would have attempted it at any other restaurant in town. A waitress came up to take our order. She took one look at me, the receiving blanket, the little baby legs sticking out from under it, and said, "If you're comfortable nursing with a cover, that's cool, but I just want you to know that you don't have to cover up here." If you're the sort of person who wants to give that waitress a high-five, LGC is the place for you. If, on the other hand, you can't believe I was nursing in public, even covered up--well, think twice about going, and be prepared to avert your eyes. LGC is the kind of laid-back place where you frequently see families with tiny kids, people swapping tables to chat with a friend they hadn't expected to see, and everyone from newspaper reporters in their shirts and ties to JMU kids in their jeggings.

But what if I'm not a hippie?
Have the local organic burger. It's incredibly delicious...but it's a burger. Seriously. No hippification, except for the sourcing on the meat. No weird spices, no patchouli aftertaste, no tie-dyed bun. I promise. It even comes with fries.


  1. Thanks for the review!
    Folks like you help remind me why I am almost 30, a mother, and still working at a restaurant...
    Because it's the Little Grill!
    I, too, am in love with the place.
    Thanks for reminding me why.
    Hope to see you there,
    (LGC Worker-owner)
    P.S. I think we've improved our soysage recipe some. You should give it another try. The soysage biscuit with swiss, tomato, and spinach is my newest favorite b-fast. As for the biscuits, they're honey wheat...two ingredients you don't see much of in a southern kitchen, that's true.

  2. Li'l Grill is also our fave - on the rare occasions I can talk my husband into taking me out, I know there's only one choice: Down Home Night. The chicken is great. The only bad experiences we've had at the grill are when they've been out of dark meat. We LOVE being able to eat locally sourced food. If I had one suggestion it would be for them to add some lighter fare to the menu. Sure, there's a lot of vegetarian choices, but it's mostly all kinda heavy, fried, very carb-laden stuff. How about a veggie stir-fry? a veggie frittata? Anyway, great review.