No place like house

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Laurel Glad­den

You won’t find many road-weary trav­el­ers tuck­ing into plates of food at Harry’s Road­house, de­spite its prox­im­ity to the in­ter­state and its perch just off Old Las Ve­gas High­way. Sure, you’ll spy a hand­ful of tourists, lured by word of mouth and on­line buzz. But most of the seats are oc­cu­pied by lo­cals — neigh­bor­hood reg­u­lars or down­town­ers will­ing to make the trek to this quirky, slightly so­phis­ti­cated ver­sion of the Amer­i­can road­house.

A col­or­ful South­west­ern eclec­ti­cism char­ac­ter­izes the in­te­rior. The lush rear gar­dens and sun­set-view pa­tio are prime places to re­lax with one of Harry’s pop­u­lar mar­gar­i­tas, typ­i­cally served up in a cock­tail glass and ac­com­pa­nied, like milk­shakes at a Wool­worth’s lunch counter, by a lit­tle ex­tra in a minia­ture stain­less-steel shaker.

The menu is eclec­tic and in­cludes sand­wiches, burg­ers, sal­ads, pas­tas, and re­gional fa­vorites like en­chi­ladas, quesadillas, tostadas, fish tacos, and a more-than-ac­cept­able green chile stew. The wine se­lec­tion is ad­e­quate, if unimag­i­na­tive. Sev­eral beers are avail­able on tap, in­clud­ing Santa Fe Brew­ing Com­pany’s pale ale.

“Road­food isn’t the work of a sin­gle cre­ative ge­nius,” say Jane and Michael Stern, au­thors of Road­food. “It grows out of tra­di­tion and out of the bril­liantly spiced … di­ver­sity that makes this nation such an eater’s ad­ven­ture.” This is cer­tainly true at Harry’s, which re­fuses to limit its menu to all-Amer­i­can or New Mex­i­can clas­sics. Of­fer­ings like smoky, yield­ing pork ribs or black­ened cat­fish with ten­der col­lard greens and creamy, cheesy grits soothe home­sick non­na­tive Santa Feans. Tasty scrap­ple, a golden oldie of­ten de­scribed as “ev­ery­thing but the oink,” will ap­peal to dis­placed Penn­syl­va­ni­ans (like owner Harry Shapiro) as well as the nose-to-tail-cook­ing con­tin­gent.

Break­fast and com­fort-food stan­dards are the restau­rant’s strengths. From huevos rancheros smoth­ered in mild but com­plex red chile to crav­ing­wor­thy buck­wheat pan­cakes, morn­ing meals at Harry’s are con­sis­tently hearty, full-fla­vored, and gen­er­ous. Why is it so hard to get an over-medium egg in this town, though?

The all-nat­u­ral-buf­falo burger, served with a stack of golden-brown, hand-cut, skin-on fries, ranks for me among the best burg­ers in town. The wild mush­room pizza, which sports a sur­pris­ingly sat­is­fy­ing crispy­chewy thin crust, was bet­ter than pies I’ve had at some pizze­rias in Santa Fe. Take the chef’s sug­ges­tion (and mine): add the pro­sciutto.

Spe­cials, on the other hand, can miss the mark. One day’s chi­laquiles — glo­ri­fied na­chos at best, and not very good ones at that — made me feel like a sucker. This “spe­cial” seemed de­signed by a kitchen with a sur­plus of tor­tilla chips. The sautéed “top­ping” of mush­rooms, tangy cheese, and Swiss chard had a nice com­plex fla­vor, but I wanted about four times as much of it and half as many chips.

An­other night’s spe­cial, a bar­ra­mundi stew with posole, didn’t live up to its po­ten­tial. I would gladly slurp the slightly spicy broth by the bowl­ful, but the fish’s crinkly skin looked un­ap­peal­ing and made the ten­der, fla­vor­ful meat dif­fi­cult to eat. The gar­nish­ing dol­lop of pesto had de­vel­oped a dry brown skin.

Most mem­bers of the staff bal­ance friend­li­ness with prac­ti­cal­ity. One night, how­ever, when he wasn’t dis­ap­pear­ing for lengthy pe­ri­ods of time, our server seemed more in­ter­ested in hit­ting on cute fe­male co-work­ers than in re­fill­ing wa­ter glasses, clear­ing dishes, or bring­ing a woman at a neigh­bor­ing ta­ble her wine. It’s a shame to see a kitchen care­fully con­struct, like a card tower, a de­li­cious meal only to have the care­lessly placed el­bow of poor ser­vice bring it tum­bling down.

Harry’s gets lots of ac­co­lades for its desserts, but in my years of din­ing there, I’ve had bad luck (a dis­as­trous peach cob­bler still stands out in my mind). How­ever, the pe­can pie I sam­pled re­cently — gen­er­ous, not overly sug­ary, and chock-full of sweet meaty nuts — lived up to the hype and this South­ern girl’s fond mem­o­ries. Many a year and many a mile have come be­tween me and my na­tive soil, but for those few fork­fuls, I felt like I was back home.

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