Small change

Pasatiempo - - RESTAURANT REVIEW - Lau­rel Glad­den

“Why would you even re­view Harry’s?” a friend re­cently asked. “Noth­ing ever changes there.” He eats at the funky, col­or­ful, ram­bling restau­rant off Old Las Ve­gas High­way at least once a week, so he would know.

Harry’s Road­house is many things to many peo­ple. It’s part road­house, of course, part diner, part bar, and, in sum­mer, part gar­den café, where you can eat lunch amid hol­ly­hocks. It’s also a popular gath­er­ing spot, an eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble half­way point for folks in town and those more far-flung. On al­most any night, go early or be pre­pared to wait among the hun­gry throngs.

One room looks like it was pulled from the set of Diner , with retro-style ta­bles, chrome-ac­cented chairs, swivel­ing cush­ioned counter stools, and baked goods taunt­ing from be­hind the glass of a re­frig­er­ated case. In the heart of the build­ing is a warm but wonky room with a wood-beamed ceil­ing and walls lit­tered with lo­cal art­work. You might see a cou­ple on their first date here, or a multigenerational party of 10.

Along the back of the sprawl­ing build­ing is an old-fash­ioned screened-in porch — a cheer­ful spot with colored walls and ta­bles wrapped in vi­brant oil­cloth. In the bar, lo­cals reg­u­larly post up for a pint or one of Harry’s renowned mar­gar­i­tas. Un­less you spec­ify oth­er­wise — and your server might give you a funny look if you do — it will be served up, like a mar­tini, not on the rocks, with a lit­tle ex­tra along­side in the shaker, like a drug­store malted. Ad­join­ing is a co­zier dining room with a kiva fire­place.

My cur­mud­geonly friend is right about the menu. Much of it has re­mained the same for as long as I can re­mem­ber: sal­ads, na­chos, pizza, pas­tas, burg­ers, steaks, and other com­fort foods. There are some re­gion­ally in­spired dishes, too, from New Mex­ico op­tions to Penn­syl­va­nia scrap­ple and a de­cently ex­e­cuted South­ern-style black­ened cat­fish — a nice slab­like filet served with creamy golden grits and leafy dark-green col­lards.

The house salad was fresh but un­re­mark­able and slathered in an overly oily dress­ing. Though it sounds dis­con­cert­ingly like a Wal­dorf, the gala ap­ple salad is a light, crunchy, well-bal­anced jumble of let­tuce, mildly sweet fruit nuggets, wal­nut pieces, and lightly twing­ing blue cheese in a del­i­cate poppy-seed dress­ing.

Hanger steak is a tough cut to mas­ter. Harry’s “rancherostyle” ver­sion was evenly, am­ply sea­soned and rea­son­ably well cooked, though still mostly too chewy. The whole plate seemed like a clas­sic cow­boy meal: meat and pep­pers and just-ten­der pinto beans with some gua­camole and a mole that was fine, though a bit too sweet.

The wild mush­room pizza in­cludes an ar­ray of shrooms and a bit of spinach on a min­i­mal layer of mari­nara. Moz­zarella with a fresh milky fla­vor is ap­plied in mod­er­a­tion, and the crust, which was too ten­der and cakey for my taste, is ide­ally thin and charred in spots.

An ar­ray of clas­sic desserts — pies, cakes, cob­blers, and crum­bles — is al­ways avail­able. The choco­late cream pie is like a sweet lit­tle grandma with a black belt in aikido: un­ex­cit­ing co­coa-tinted fill­ing and clouds of whipped cream, but with a deep choco­late fla­vor, in­tense smooth­ness, and in­tox­i­cat­ing rich­ness that will kick your butt.

And then there’s the break­fast menu, which in­cludes just about any­thing you’d want in the morn­ing, from baked good­ies, oat­meal, pancakes, and waf­fles to eggs, migas, huevos rancheros, and chi­laquiles. The buck­wheat pancakes were ex­em­plary, over­size flap­jacks with a nutty, grainy, mildly sweet com­plex­ity and stud­ded with tiny, in­tense wild blue­ber­ries.

Harry’s break­fast bur­rito ranks in the “fine” cat­e­gory. You’ll get plenty of egg, a lit­tle bit of cheese, and red and green chiles that taste fresh and house-made but are eas­ily forgotten. I felt slightly cheated by the too-crunchy, charred­look­ing nub­bins of potato in mine — maybe they came from the bot­tom of the mise en place bin.

Ser­vice can be un­even. Dur­ing calmer hours, you’ll get quick at­ten­tion. On chaotic nights, though, em­ploy­ees can be abrupt. You might wait a while be­fore some­one shows up at your ta­ble, and the beer you or­dered might lan­guish on the bar, get­ting warm be­fore any­one re­mem­bers you or­dered it. Your wa­ter glass might sit empty un­less you reach across the diner counter and fill it for your­self.

Still, peo­ple work hard here. At the diner counter, you can watch the kitchen staff bust­ing their humps, stand­ing and sweat­ing for hours on end by the pizza oven or over flam­ing burn­ers and steam­ing pots. Par­tic­u­larly, if you’ve never worked in a restau­rant and are fond of the cleaned-up glam­our of shows like Top Chef , this will be an eye-opener.

Harry’s has a great lo­ca­tion. It of­fers a huge range of foods and styles, and it does a lot of them well. Maybe things don’t change much here, but, as the say­ing goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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