GOOD 'N' GOOEY Harry's chili cheese fries.
Sometimes you just have to roll your eyes at declarations of the best place for this food in America or the best that. Come on. Whether you’re talking about T-bone steaks or Rocky Road ice cream, quality rises to the level of excellence, not exclusiveness. There is never just one bottle on the top shelf.
Call me disloyal, but that was my reaction last year when Travel & Leisure magazine’s readers’ poll Providence as “the No. 1 burger city.” Did Craigie on Main move from Cambridge or Zuni Cafe from San Francisco? Anyway, thinking about that accolade recently prompted me to pay a visit to Harry’s Bar & Burger, one of two Providence eateries (with Local 121) mentioned in that article.
The bar dominates the front with some tables around, a few more tables are in a small adjoining room in the back through a brick archway, and there are two more rooms upstairs. The decor is black-and-white like the Hereford beeves of its burgers, with the slogans “Udderly Tasty” and “Every Hour Is Happy Hour” surrounding the open kitchen serving shelves. Dozens of decorative beer taps are lined up above the back room seats.
But it was a hot summer day, so first we ordered something to drink. I chose a variation on my go-to Long Island Iced Tea, which they call a Wrong Island Iced Tea. Pleasant, and the only such drink I’ve ever had that actually contains tea. Gary had a refreshing wheat beer that was on tap — not the 68-ounce Das Boot but a regular pint, though the menu parenthetically chastises that decision as being “(For Those with No Balls).” There are more than four dozen choices (mostly bottles and cans, but there are five well-chosen rotating drafts), from Lagunitas IPA to Old Leghumper Porter and gluten-free Bard’s Gold. The cocktails are interesting, from a classic Sazerac to a Bloody Mary with bacon-infused vodka. If you’re a guy who would just like a milkshake but are still shaken by that testicular challenge, you can get a float with vanilla ice cream and Moo Thunder stout.
About the menu. You can have chili by itself in a bowl ($4.99), on cheese fries with jalapeños ($3.59), or on a hot dog with raw onions ($4.99). I took home a grilled bacon and cheddar jumbo dog ($4.99) — nine inches, with plenty of hickory-smoked bacon and caramelized onions, and a thick cheddar cheese sauce. Excellent, and so substantial that I could only finish half.
For those not into red meat, there are four sandwiches, from Buffalo chicken ($5.69) to veggie black bean burger ($4.79), made crunchy with crispy potato sticks and tastier with chili BBQ sauce.
The most interesting thing about the dozen burgers is that they are sliders, two to an order. Mini-burgers, three-inchers or so, too thin to not cook all the way through, so no sending back to the kitchen because you ordered it rare and it came out medium. Convenient for the kitchen but not for customer choices. (Compensation: from 3 to 5 pm, eat-in burgers are half-price.)