The Harrisburg tavern known as Garrason’s — a longtime favorite of neighbors and those who appreciate neighborhood bars — is gone. But in its place has appeared a renovated replacement with great promise.
The Sturges Speakeasy is located in the same spot as Garrason’s along Forster Street off Third Street and beside (interestingly enough) the Liquor Control Board building. The State Museum and archives buildings are across the street.
So you’re in the neighborhood of a little history, a little booze regulation and, usually, available parking along Forster. Inside, the original layout remains much the same: nice bar upfront, some exposed brick, tables off to the side and in the back, second-floor seating to accommodate private gigs and overflows and a smallish but nicely appointed outdoor deck upstairs.
Beyond that, the place is really spruced up. There’s a new tin ceiling and hardwood floors, big mirrors along the wall, strategically placed TVs, a ton of beer taps, nice tall wooden tables for six, candles on the tables and piped-in music. Sometimes it gets loud.
The drink and food menus offer a lot of reasonably priced choices. In addition, the service is especially friendly and competent and all of the food items — even the dressings — are made in-house.
The fare, as you might expect, is largely bar food. But there are items on the menu or offered as specials that go way beyond burgers and fries. Not that you’d want to avoid the burgers or the fries. It’s just that in separate visits, I was struck by the high quality of what I ate that wasn’t burgers or fries.
For example, a weekly special appetizer of bacon and panko (flaky breadcrumbs common in Japanese cuisine) encrusted scallops with Granny Smith apple slaw and celery puree ($11) was absolutely wonderful. The two scallops were large enough to share. The presentation was beautiful. The taste was fresh and light. Add two more scallops and this dish would make a terrific entrée.
Regular appetizers run from just $3 for an order of fresh-cut fries cooked in peanut oil to $13 for 15 wings with choice of sauce. There are some common and some uncommon appetizer choices: chips and salsa, nachos, steamed clams, black bean hummus, Cajun shrimp with grits and a deviled eggs sampler.
There are several salads, priced from $6 to $12. They include a Caesar to which you can add chicken, steak or tuna; a roasted beet salad with goat cheese and toasted almonds; a chicken cranberry spinach salad with apples and walnuts, and a Pittsburgh steak salad with fries, cheddar cheese, sliced egg and black olives.
On one visit, I had the grilled tuna salad with the tuna served rare over spinach, green beans and avocado slices with bits of bacon and tri-colored potatoes. This a large salad, truly a meal, and a real deal at $12. (There are also wraps for just $8: turkey, veggie and chicken Caesar.)
Dining partners raved about the 8-ounce burgers served with fries, a side salad, slaw or soup. And there’s a black bean burger with tofu French fries. (Don’t worry you can switch to regular fries.)
But there’s also a cornmeal oyster po’boy ($10) served on focaccia as well as a pulledpork barbecue on a brioche with grated cheddar cheese that drew high praise.
I can speak to the turkey burger ($9) served with avocado, cheese and horseradish mayo. It was excellent. And one dining partner had nothing but positive things to say about the (to me, oddly offered) shark tacos. You get a choice of hard or soft tacos, two for $11.
Entrées include the ubiquitous bone-in rib eye steak. This one is 14 ounces, rubbed in truffle oil and served with roasted corn mashed potatoes for $24.
There’s also a sirloin for $17, fried chicken for $12 (and when was the last time you saw fried chicken that wasn’t served out of a drive-thru window?), chicken pot pie, blackened catfish with house-made cornbread as well as grilled swordfish served with risotto.
House-made desserts include bananas Foster chocolate bread pudding for $6 and ice cream for $4. The beer list is extensive. The wine pours are extremely generous. And the cocktail list goes on and on, including classics like Long Island iced tea.
If you like the atmosphere of a friendly neighborhood bar and want really good quality food (which starts and ends with beer nuts in many neighborhood bars), then you’ll love the feel and the food at The Sturges Speakeasy.
Owner Adam Sturges is a past manager at McGrath’s Pub in Harrisburg, a place that’s always packed. He’s brought a real sense of how to run a restaurant to his new, refurbished tavern. And during a weekend visit, a security person was offering to walk patrons to their cars.
The Speakeasy opened in June and had a fast start that was handled well — no doubt due to its owner’s experience. If the restaurant maintains the quality shown so far, it’ll likely be a success.
The Phantom Diner has been a longtime restaurant reviewer for Central PA Magazine.
THE STURGES SPEAKEASY
400 Forster St., Harrisburg; 717.412.0931
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
Monday-Friday; Noon-2 a.m.
Saturday; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday.
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