Growing up with Cheers reruns, I always wanted to live in a neighborhood with a neighborhood bar. At the age of 24, I can check that desire off my list (leaving skydiving and learning to crochet). Harry's of Hyde Park is right down the street, and it's one of those places that always leaves a light on.
A cornerstone of the North End's summer swing, Harry's is known to be an unpretentious, inexpensive place to hang out and have a beer, a burger and a game of pool. I've eaten there enough to expect a good meal and was happy to take the boy for lunch.
Sliding into a shiny booth by the window, I looked over the simple menu while the boy scanned a long chalkboard of beer (drafts, bottles or pints) and glasses of "premium wines," all under five dollars. It took him about 10 seconds to decide on a pint of Guinness which was served ice cold with three inches of foam ("great head") and a hand-done shamrock dribbled into the froth. He took one sip and made the kind of face I make when I eat a spoonful of melted chocolate ice cream. It didn't taste quite that good; but, for stout beer, it was velvet.
Deciding on lunch was a little more difficult. While not extravagant, the selection includes nine different burgers, each made with one-third pound of beef and "appropriate sauce" (inappropriate sauce available with ID). There is also a range of "Idaho Tempura"—a.k.a. finger steaks, battered fish and scallops, a slew of fried sides and a sandwich called the Ham-o-Neer which consists of baked ham topped with cheddar cheese and thousand island dressing. In the end, we both decided on the "Elwood Blues," a dandy of a chicken sandwich made from a recipe straight out of the Tabasco Cookbook. First you take some toasted onion buns then add a grilled chicken breast and veritable slathers of chili-garlic mayonnaise, sour cream, Tabasco sauce, jalapeno peppers, lettuce and onion. On the side come hot French fries and Harry's signature special sauce, all for $5.99 ("great deal").
When our twin lunches arrived, I went for the sandwich and the boy dug into the fries. The flavor combination had the essence of those irresistible jalapeno poppers you can buy at Costco (without the mystery breading or essence of microwave). The sour cream cooled the bite of the peppers such that my lips were on fire but my taste buds were dancin' like a teenybopper on a Wednesday night. It was the kind of sandwich that gets all over everything—hands, face, lap—but I enjoyed it so much I didn't mind the boy's looks of bewildered amusement. We agreed the fries were great. They were served red hot, skin on and lightly salted and the horseradish special sauce made them as irresistible as the scraps of sandwich that remained on our plates.
For dessert, I took a few sips of the boy's Guinness. After the heat of the meal, the cool, thick liquid slid down my throat like a dream. It was the perfect end to a really good, really filling bar meal and even if the staff might not know my name, they will certainly remember my tip.
—Erin Ryan is as mean a tipper as she is a quipper.