Harry's Savoy Grill Remains a Tried-and-True Classic
A dedication to technique makes the Wilmington steakhouse consistently excellent.
Petit filet mignon Oscar at Harry’s Savoy Grill.//Photo by Javy Diaz
It may not seem to be so big a deal, but Béarnaise sauce is one of cooking’s great balancing acts, so let’s consider for a moment the version served at Harry’s Savoy Grill.
Buttery rich, it feels lush on the palate, satiny as the egg yolk at its heart. It is flavored subtly, with just enough acid to keep all that wonderful silkiness from devolving into a caricature of extravagance. Best of all, the sweeter angels of tarragon caress from first taste through the long, slow, decadent finish. It is the kind of sauce that, for the duration of your meal, makes you forget all about the wine.
That perfect Béarnaise exemplifies the high-wire act that is Harry’s, which for most of its 30 years has operated as a steak house, a chef-driven restaurant, an event venue, a special occasion place and, for some, the neighborhood bar, all under one roof. The Béarnaise also speaks of a core Harry’s value: stellar execution of classic technique. That means that screwing up one of French cuisine’s great sauces—though easy to do in any number of ways—is not an option.
The result of that respect for technique is consistently excellent food and unparalleled longevity in a dining scene that grows ever more competitive.
Yet even after all these years, owner Xavier Teixido still asks himself, “How do we define who we are?”
Calamari and a few other dishes have been tweaked by Chef Michael Heaps.//Photo bY JAVY Diaz
The answer comes in part from members of the team. So when he found Harry’s in need of a new chef some months ago, he looked for someone with a range of skills and experience, someone who understood a steakhouse, someone who could manage volume and events at Harry’s Savoy Ballroom, and someone who could really cook, who could create something fresh without feeling a need to overhaul the menu. He looked for someone who was simpatico philosophically, but with a different point of view. And he wanted someone who he shared enough personal chemistry with to create a long-term relationship.
Enter Michael Heaps, who took over the kitchen just before Thanksgiving. He brought to Harry’s an education from Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, experience in banquets at a world-class hotel, a successful stint with the Sullivan’s Steak House group, experience at a high-end dining club, ideas from destination restaurants he had worked at in the Virgin Islands, and a range of culinary influences born of travel from the mountain west to the Caribbean to Seattle.
Teixido’s charge to Heaps, in so many words: Make your mark, but don’t go crazy.
That means you won’t see any changes to the famous prime rib at Harry’s, or to the signature clams Casino—dishes that helped build the restaurant’s enduring popularity. Nor will you see any changes in Harry’s excellent wine program.
You will see a few more seasonal foods on the menu, tweaks to the calamari and escargots, a new cut of beef or two, and more options. The house doesn’t dictate the set on your steak, for example. Choose your cut, then choose from a selection of sauces from peppercorn to Bordelaise, toppings such as sautéed mushrooms and onions, or a compound butter. Then order your sides from a large selection of potato dishes, pastas and greens.
An appetizer of fried oysters is served with pork belly atop tomato jam and drizzled with a spicy chipotle cream.//Photo by Javy Diaz
On our most recent visit, the NCAA Final Four played out on televisions in the ever-lively lounge while we attempted to hit all the menu highlights. We started with an appetizer of four large, plump oysters fried in masa. The grainy corn flour made a crispy counterpoint to the pillowy shellfish. Thick slabs of pork belly added a touch of salt, and a delicious tomato jam added a sweet note. I gladly would have heaped that jam on the finest filet. The kicker was a drizzle of chipotle cream, a zingy alternative to a remoulade. Warning to the spice averse: A little goes a long way.
The carpaccio was everything carpaccio should be—ruby red, with the texture of satin. Harry’s plays it straight: a few drops of olive oil, a few shavings of Reggiano, a sprinkle of sea salt, a cluster of peppery arugula and endive served with two buttery crostini. Perfect.
The crab cake is served with red cabbage slaw and housemade potato chips.//Photo by Javy Diaz
Harry’s beef gets so much attention, it can be easy to forget that it also serves great seafood. In addition to several varieties of oysters and clams offered at the raw bar, the menu tempts with shellfish dishes such as shrimp scampi and entrées like swordfish with tomatoes, artichokes, capers, olives and herbs. But to me, the touchstone of any restaurant is the crab cake. Those at Harry’s do not disappoint. They amount to nothing less than firmly packed whole backfin lumps lightly bound, lightly seasoned and lightly broiled and topped with fresh poblano crema. The slaw of red cabbage was a bright touch. A few housemade potato chips added some crunch.
Harry’s desserts are a decadent treat.//Photo by Javy Diaz
We opted for more crab in the petit filet Oscar, and we were delighted to be served so many of those jumbo lumps, they would make a meal on their own. Thick spears of baton-cut asparagus were tender and fresh. There was, of course, the amazing Béarnaise. And there was the foundation of a 6-ounce filet that was charred perfectly—proof that whether searing, braising or roasting, at Harry’s technique and finesse matter.
We need not have ordered the au gratin potatoes or sautéed haricot verts—Harry’s feeds you well—but they illustrate Teixido’s credo that if the kitchen can’t make something great, it won’t make it. Harry’s made both very well. Nor did we need dessert, but when the server dangles something as irresistible as rum-raisin bread pudding, what choice do you have? Served with a slice of pear, cinnamon gelato and vanilla sauce, it was a rich, warming finish.
After so fine a meal, dessert may have been a bit self-indulgent, but isn’t that why you go to a place like Harry’s? That will never change. And Harry’s will always deliver exactly what you expect, regardless of whatever else may change.
Harry's Savoy Grill
2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington • 475-3000
Prices: appetizers, $10.95–$16.95; soups and salads, $7.50–$12.95; beef, $28.95–$48.95; entrées, $26.95–$35.95; sides, $6.95–$17.95; desserts, $7.50–$12.75
Recommended: carpaccio, petit filet mignon Oscar, pear-rum raisin bread pudding