Lunch with Louie at the Harry's
Santa Barbara food reviews with Louie the pessimist food critic
Jun 16, 5:11 PM (PT)
If you have to choose one restaurant that represents the ultimate in Santa Barbara tradition and history it would probably be Harry’s. Located in the Loreto Plaza, at State and Las Positas, it has been a perennial main stay since the early ‘60s. And if you live in this great town, chances are you have been there for either generous drinks or for average food. But no one cares about the gourmet level of Harry’s food - its Harry’s. You don’t go there with large gastronomical expectations, right?
Well, I always plan to pay for my food, so I expect a certain level of quality. I am not looking for fusion, Asian influences, truffles or morels, just basic food and a little ambiance. There is plenty of that, with lots of old fashioned circular red booths and an innumerable quantity of very old pictures. If there is one place that has a large number of old pictures of our recently departed former president Ronald Reagan, it has to be Harry’s. I actually saw him right by the entrance riding his horse and smiling at us in what where undoubtedly better times. I guess that was our tribute to him and also a chance to have lunch in a unique example of a bygone era.
There are thousands of black and white pictures of Santa Barbara, some probably dating back a hundred years. There are very interesting aerial photos of State Street before it became the State Street we know - lots of memorabilia of all kinds. As a matter of fact, the three giant rooms that compose the restaurant are totally covered with old pictures; that should keep you entertained while you’re waiting for your food or your bill. Maybe they have a secret hope you will become so mesmerized by the pictures that you won’t look at your food when it arrives. In some cases, that would be a blessing.
As a personal incentive, at Harry’s I get to dine with some people who are actually quite older then me - lately, quite a rarity.
So, what do you order at Harry’s? We finally settled on a chicken pot pie with a side of fries and a hot open face turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, along with a salad Ed ordered with ranch dressing on the side. I commented he should specify which side he wanted it on, right or left - that brought a half-way smile to our young waiter, who continued writing the order on his pad. ”Ranch on the side”, he said, “that’s funny - right or left.” His smile was forced. He wasn’t amused at all. Well, the salad came with the ranch dressing right smack on the center of the salad. “I’ll give you right or left, you schmuck. Right in the middle and lots of it! You want to be a comedian - move to Hollywood.”
The turkey plate had eleven slices of turkey sitting on top of one puny slice of white bread - Ed counted them. The poor slice of white bread was gasping for air but to no avail. A gallon of gravy covered the entire dish, and the mashed potatoes as well. By the way, yesterday a homeless man called me “white bread” when I ignored his request for a cigarette.
The chicken pot pie retained its form and shape for exactly 30 seconds, when I tried to scoop some up with my fork, it collapsed like Saddam’s regime. Except this one never tried to rise up again; in two minutes it turned into Technicolor oatmeal (peas and carrots) and shortly afterward, it died. I tried to find some chicken but everything had turned into a uniform and unidentifiable mass. Between both of our orders we had enough starch to supply every dry cleaner in town. The French fries were nice and crispy, and I was quickly overdosing on carbs and becoming a little goofy as well. And so to the dismay and embarrassment of Ed, I took a large fry and stuck it the middle of the dead chicken pot pie. It stood there firmly at attention, so I proceeded to put another smaller French fry across the center of the larger one. A little squeeze and, voila! My dear oatmeal, or shall I say chicken pot pie, R.I.P.
When our waiter came back with our check he looked at the improvised burial and actually smiled. So there.
We were walking out and, to Harry’s credit, one of the cooks was slicing eleven slices of turkey for a hot turkey plate. No pre-cut deli slices here - just a huge breast of turkey being sliced manually. Good job. I hear they serve a mean cocktail, so we may be back for that. For the time being, I had my share of comfort food, although it kind of makes me uncomfortable.
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