East End Eats: Affordable Fun at Harbor Grill

Families like the casual feel and friendly atmosphere of the Harbor Grill, where ice cream floats and a healthy kids’ menu are as tasty and affordable as the $20 and under entrees for grown-ups. Morgan McGivern photos

    Summertime sure is fun out here! Going to the beach (didja have to pay for a beach sticker?), driving out to Montauk (gosh, golly, gas sure is expensive!), shopping (that bikini is how much?), and dining out at all the fun new restaurants, where the average check can easily reach $100 per person.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a casual, affordable restaurant for the whole family? Better yet, one that is open all year?
    Harbor Grill on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton promises — and delivers — just that, casual, affordable dining. Every night at the bar you can get a classic burger and brew for $10, a birch beer float for $4.50. Every single entree is below $20, except for the weekend special of prime rib, which is still a reasonable $22.95. The restaurant is run by the same folks who own Harbor Bistro, a bit farther down the road on the water.
    On the night of our visit Harbor Grill was very busy, with families and young couples enjoying the reasonably priced menu. The decor is simple and clean — wood floors, wood tables, a cathedral ceiling with skylights, and a lot of acoustic paneling to keep the noise level down. There are also a few outdoor tables for those who enjoy the soothing rumble of cars on the nearby road.
    We began with corn fritters, steamed mussels, Mongolian barbecue wings, gravy cheese fries, and Caesar salad. The corn fritters were very good, slightly sweet nuggets with kernels of corn throughout, served with an excellent horseradish sour cream dipping sauce. The mussels were a big hit; they were plump, tender, and sweet, served in a great broth full of fresh garlic and chopped parsley. The grilled garlic bread served with it was perfect for sopping up an extra dose of vampire deterrent. The wings were also very good, coated with a spicy and sweet sauce. We had to get the gravy cheese fries because you seldom see versions of “poutine,” the national dish of Quebec, outside of Canada. Dare I say these were better than every version I’ve tried up north? Poutine is traditionally served with cheese curds and bland gravy. These fries, although obviously of the frozen variety, were served with a very tasty mushroom gravy and melted mozzarella cheese. Naughty, naughty, indeed! The Caesar salad was okay, but it could have used a little more punch, as in anchovies or garlic or something.
    For entrees we tried the Gorgonzola-crusted steak, shrimp scampi, barbecue ribs, the baby blue burger, and baked clams. The Gorgonzola steak was sliced flank steak, an underutilized cut of beef that always has flavor, served with a big potato croquette. The potato croquette reminded me of my mother’s potato pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes, crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside.
    The shrimp scampi was a dud, but only because the shrimp were tasteless. The pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was delicious. The barbecue ribs were well cooked and tender, but the sauce tasted bottled. The burger was one of the best dishes we tried. Excellent beef, char grilled to perfection, topped with Gorgonzola cheese and bacon, served with more of the mega-steak fries.
    The baked clams were good, if a bit bready.
    Service on the night we went was excellent. Our waiter was cheerful, helpful, and energetic.
    Prices are $2.75 to $9.95 for appetizers and salads, $5.95 to $11.95 for sandwiches and burgers, $14.95 to $22.95 for entrees, and $3.50 to $4.95 for sides. There is an extensive and cute children’s menu with dishes named after Katie, Ryleigh, Kerri, Brayden, Addie, and Maddie. From a healthy grilled chicken with a vegetable to fish ’n’ chips or mozzarella shots, the prices are a shockingly reasonable $6.50 to $8.95. Best of all, the menu starts with the dessert page. For $4.50 to $6 you can choose from a variety of floats, sundaes, shakes, and daily pie and cake specials.
    One of our guests, Claude, pointed out that Harbor Grill offers “real food and real portions.” Another guest, Grasshopper, appreciated their mixology talents used in making her Shirley Temple. She insisted there is an art to it, the balance of the grenadine to ginger ale ratio in relation to slow ice meltage. Seriously.
    For desserts we tried the pie special and the chocolate chip cookie sundae. The pies are baked on the premises, but not made on the premises. So I’m pretty sure we got a slice of Mrs. Smith’s blueberry pie. It tasted like Mrs. Smith’s blueberry pie. The chocolate chip cookie sundae was big and festive and everyone enjoyed it.
    Harbor Grill is probably the only place on the East End where you can get a truly delicious burger, marvelous mussels, and a birch beer float in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
    Summertime sure is fun out here. And it can be affordable.