It was a dark and stormy night…well, actually it was just sort of cold and crappy. Not the sort of place you’d think to head to in the dead of winter. In fact, my thoughts of fancy were turning lightly to a nice shepherd’s pie or a rich osso bucco… But there was a beer dinner to be investigated at Harry’s Oyster Bar at Bally’s, and John and I had work to do.
As we started to meet and greet and get settled in at the raw bar the first order of business was to commandeer a glass of Founder’s Dirty Bastard, as the keg was being tapped that night. There were also sips of Yards Love Stout and Blue Point Toasted Lager to be had, but I stuck with my Bastard (ahem- I am not referring to John) while perusing the cold shellfish offerings. All the classics were artfully piled onto gorgeously arranged platters: oyster and clams on the half-shell, shrimp and crab meat cocktails, and chilled lobster. A few new spins on tuna tartar and shrimp ceviche “chips” were also floating around, and I was beginning to warm up to this idea.
It was then time to get serious and take our seats in the main dining room. What struck me about Harry’s is that it is one of the very few casinos (other than Revel) where you can dine with a direct view of the outdoors. And though the weather wasn’t the best that evening, just relaxing with a view of the Boardwalk and seeing the dune grasses illuminated by electric lights, dancing in the wind…it was a preview to the warmer days to come. I was then ready for my beer and seafood cavalcade. First a Corsendonk Pale Ale was poured for us to sip with the Oysters Rockefeller and Steamed Clams. While these oysters were pristine and richly paired with spinach, bacon, and onion, they couldn’t hold a candle to the clams. Prepared with nothing but celery, wine and garlic and swimming in their own beautiful liquid, what more could one want? I was really looking forward to the Chesapeake Pan Fried Oysters, and when they arrived I could anticipate first that crunch, then that hot, briny oyster juice that just floods your mouth with joy…except it never came. The coating was crispy, to be sure, but too much breading, too little oyster and a dry texture equaled disappointment. My advice is to stick with the naked shucked babies at the raw bar. But, oh, the Cajun fried shrimp! As soon as they hit my tongue the brain sent an urgent message to my mouth: “I need more. Now.” The crunchy, spicy outer coating housed the tender, perfect shrimp within, with just the right amount of grease to keep you coming back. Though they were paired with the Rogue John John Ale, I found my half-full glass of Dirty Bastard was a better fit; the floral aroma of the hops and the fried goodness could keep me going all night long.The Chowder Shots were lovely. Yes, I’ve had better chowders- but not much. The beef and pulled pork sliders were good, but, well, this is a seafood place, no? However, an interesting thing happened when both were paired with a Brooklyn Local 2: everyone at the table said they tasted a “Good and Plenty” finish! A more sophisticated critic would probably talk of “licorice notes”, but, well, keep in mind we were on our sixth beer sampler.
For a main course, we were to select from the main menu, and I chose a good old fashioned fish n’ chips. Although the fries were addictive (possibly fresh cut), the fish, though fresh, was again dry. It made me wonder who was manning the settings on the Fryolator. As there was no pairing for this course, I went with a Dogfish Chicory Stout: and you can never go wrong with a good stout with your fish n’ chips.
Thank God for the dessert course, because it would give us time to process all that alcohol before we left…and yet, there was a dessert pairing. Mini key lime pies (a perfect balance between tart and sweet), carrot cake, and chocolate cake were served with Fin Du Monde Ephemere Apple-and yes, it tasted of apples- but was not sweet. It was more of a hybrid between cider and beer, crisp and dry.
Harry’s is run by the Doughertys family, of Dock’s Oyster House and Knife and Fork fame. It’s Bally’s departure from “this-could-be-anywhere” dining, an attempt to bring local flavor to the casino hotel experience…and it works.