What is the market for a sports bar with a fancy menu? Will whooping and hollering MSU fans sit still long enough to eat Gulf shrimp pasta with artichoke hearts and basil chiffonade? Will hockey fanatics travel to the intersection of I-75 and Clifford, in a not-yet-promising neighborhood, for the Amish chicken with sweet yellow pepper sauce?
Harry Kefalonitis is betting on it, and says he’s already pulling business from the downtown sports crowd. Kefalonitis was careful to include plenty of items for those who require a burger or a steak with their ballgame — and then gussied up each such dish. As a result, the menu has a split, though pleasing, personality.
One of Harry’s attractions is “NFL Ticket,” a satellite TV sports package that brings your NFL game of choice to one of the bar’s five televisions. This feature has already brought one exiled Buffalo fan of my acquaintance to Harry’s on a Sunday afternoon, after which he praised the chicken noodle soup and the Pub Club sandwich, but not the Bills’ running game.
Myself, I’d frequent Harry’s for the food. Chef Jim Lamb says it “leans toward Southwestern,” and this is accurate, with a “Sonora salad,” chorizo in the white bean soup, and several mentions of “ancho,” “chipotle” and “poblano” on the menu. It’s certainly a cuisine that goes well with beer.
A good example is the shrimp quesadilla starter. It’s both eye-watering and mouthwatering, though I would have left the spice out of the guacamole so that it could be a cool respite from the fire of the quesadilla.
Texas blue crab cakes are another spicy winner, with the same red chile sauce as the quesadilla. Here, the promised cilantro aioli — a main reason for ordering the dish — was too scanty to make a difference.
One of my favorite plates was a huge flatiron steak grilled as ordered, tender and salty, and served over fried potato gnocchi — round potato pasta. Ribs and a 14-ounce sirloin, both dished up with mashed Yukon Golds, are two others in the meat-and-potato genre. They come with a surprising vegetable such as roasted asparagus.
Lamb likes to cook his vegetables with wine. Pencil-thin asparagus with a roasted garlic-Chardonnay sauce were slightly smoky and very delicious. Served with a flaky, tender grilled salmon, they were just right. Greens were intensely braised in wine to accompany two other dishes, pork loin and turkey breast.
The pecan-crusted turkey breasts (three of them) were too dry, but this problem was more or less solved by the cherry-ancho chile sauce that topped them. The pork loin was moist and glazed with a cinnamon-honey-chipotle sauce.
Also available, for those who want the other side of this menu’s personality, are fish and chips, soups, salads, sandwiches and five burgers. Of the soups, I was partial to the cream of potato, which broke with the picante theme by being bland and buttery. The burgers are all half-pounders, made with either Angus sirloin or turkey and avocado.
Your salad can be minimal, with field greens, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan, or loaded with bacon, blue cheese, eggs and red onion. My Sonora featured roasted corn and red peppers. Desserts all feature crowd-pleasing chocolate — but with crème brûlée or fresh berries.
With all this, it’s hard to remember that Harry’s is a bar; after all, the bartenders are putting the finishing touches on their martini menu, with banana split and key lime to be offered. If you’re at all into the dark beer craze, definitely try Young Double Chocolate Stout, which tastes like coffee and is silky smooth. Harry’s offers no fewer than six champagnes — no doubt for dousing your fellow fans when victory is ours.
Harry’s has a no-smoking area, but it’s not a no-smoke area, since the bar is all one big room. My jacket smelled of cigarettes after one Monday night visit, though there were very few other patrons. (I left before the football started.)
So Harry’s is not nonsmoker-friendly, and, as our waitress noted, it’s “very vegetarian unfriendly.” But what do you expect from a sports bar?
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].