The owner of H. Harper Station, Jerry Slater, is one of our city’s great cocktailians. His bravura drinks list shifts easily from classics to new creations, and it makes you pause and consider each spirit. It’s like one of those Chinese menus where you want a lobster dish, a pork dish and a duck dish, except here you’re looking at tequila, gin and rum. I’ve liked some concoctions better than others, but I always stop and appreciate the sensibility of each. This “Flor de Manzana” made the case for mixing reposada tequila and the French apple brandy calvados with enough Punt e Mes and bitters to bring all the flavors into an intriguing dialogue.
In other words, schluuuurp.
The kitchen in this pretty old brick train building along Memorial Drive in Reynoldstown has faced the same problems that beset other ambitious cocktail-first establishments. It needs to provide the bites you crave with spirits — small, rich, indulgent — while making the case as a full-service restaurant.
My advice would be to go for whatever sounds companionable with the drink in your hand. Bread crisps topped with excellent pimento cheese and pickled cauliflower are easy to like, whether you’re nibbling one slowly or devouring three in quick succession.
The kitchen prepares terrific charcuterie, which changes daily. We thought the platter of house-cured ham, pâté de campagne and rabbit galantine showed great technique and sense of flavor. We ignored the bread and just ate the ham with our fingers. If I lived nearby, I’d be doing that every Friday evening.
My enthusiasm wanes a bit once I move past the snacks and starters to the Southern bistro restaurant dishes.
Mussels in a watery Sweetwater 420 beer broth with spongy cubes of sausage and flavor-drained okra lose our interest quickly. The vegetarian entree, listed on the menu, brought that dispirited collection of sides (including flavor-challenged asparagus) that vegetarians fear. We liked cornmeal-fried catfish but all the Southern stylings on the plate (unseasoned Hoppin’ John, over-seasoned collard greens, mustard BBQ sauce, Creole remoulade) never quite cohered into the messy goodness intended.
Despite the several talented chefs who’ve built this kitchen, I’m not sure H. Harper Station is ever destined to be a chef-driven restaurant. But as a cocktail bar, it’s nonpareil and should be considered a destination.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog