Bites Nearby: The Historic Harmony Inn

A beautiful setting but disappointing meals.

Overview: The Historic Harmony Inn is in a National Historic District in Harmony. Austin Pearce, a prominent banker, mill operator and railroad executive, built it in 1856. The original house structure featured black walnut and chestnut woodwork, and it was believed to have had the first indoor plumbing in the area.

Eventually, Pearce lost his fortune and sold his home to the Ziegler family who converted it to a hotel and saloon. A two-story wing was added at the turn of the century. After the Zieglers sold it, it had a variety of owners. Currently, Carl Beers and Gary and Betsy Barnes own it. There are rumors that the inn is haunted.

The menu is eclectic, with casual bar-type foods and a variety of meat and fish entrees and German and Mexican specialties. There is an outdoor dining area, the Beer Garden, where smoking is allowed. The bar is spacious.

We made reservations but probably did not need them as it was not crowded on the Saturday night we ate there. The downstairs dining area was full, but there are only seven tables. The large upstairs rooms were empty. The bar had a few people, and there were a couple of tables taken on the patio.

Harmony Inn serves lunch and dinner. The greeting staff was very friendly and seemed  happy to see us, which is always nice. The customers on the patio were having a grand time, and they nodded and smiled as we walked through.

Décor: The big draw for visitors to the Harmony Inn is the décor and the architecture. The home was built in the Italianate style, and it's absolutely gorgeous inside and out. The lower dining rooms recall an earlier era of gentlemen's dens with ample books, mounted animal heads, including a buffalo, and hunting and Old West scenes. I half-expected Teddy Roosevelt to come in and have a seat at the table next to us. It's a feast for the eyes.

Drinks: There is a full bar and daily drink specials. The evening we were there it was $2 vodkas. All drinks are very reasonably priced, and I enjoyed a perfectly prepared vodka martini with tiny ice chips floating on top, a nice twist.

The wine list was interesting, but the wines were mostly unfamiliar to us, and our waitress was not able to expand upon what the menu said, which was basically just the names of the wine. We opted for beer, and they have an extensive selection, with some interesting choices on tap, in particular.

Appetizers: The appetizer menu is fairly typical bar food. There are cheese fries ($4.95 half order/$7.55 full order), nachos ($7.25), spinach artichoke dip ($7.95) and selections that I think more of as dinner items, such as quesadillas and chicken tenders.

The chipotle shrimp ($7.95) sounded interesting, but it also was in one of the dinner combos we were considering so we ordered wings, medium ($7.95), and they were very good.

Entrees: Things started to go downhill with our entrees. My husband ordered one of the specials, the Smokin' Pit Sampler with barbecued pork, smoked brisket and a chicken breast. The chicken breast was extremely dry, too dry to even consider eating. The other two meats were rather dry as well but at least edible. The coleslaw was good, and the beans were the best thing on the plate.

I wanted to order one of their bestsellers, so I opted for the Aspen ($12.95) from the "Colorado Mexican" menu. I'm not sure what that means, because I've had a lot of Mexican food in Colorado, but maybe this is from a different part of the state. The beef taco was good but was, technically, a small tostado. The chile relleno also was good but, technically, chile relleno means "stuffed chile" and there was no chile. It was more like a fried enchilada or small chimichanga.

The chimichanga, unfortunately, was bad. The meat had spoiled, and it was quite a shock to take the first bite and get that sickly, sweet taste of meat gone bad. We both smelled it and gave it another small taste to verify it was really spoiled before alerting the waitress. It was.

The waitress, whom I will discuss later in this review, needed some prompting to tell the kitchen about the problem with the chicken, but eventually she said she would do so. It wasn't that she didn't believe me, she just didn't seem to care. They did take my dinner off the check.

Other entrees include a variety of chicken, beef and veal dishes, including Black Jack Chicken ($13.95), the Iron Skillet, which is a grilled sirloin platter ($14.95) and Jaeger Schnitzel ($13.95). A seafood menu section includes beer-battered haddock ($12.95) and fried shrimp ($15.95).

There is a selection of salads, sandwiches and homemade soups.

The most popular items are marked with a pointy finger and include the spinach artichoke dip ($7.95), the Original Wood Street Burger ($8.25), the Aspen, the Chicken Oscar ($15.95), Lou'siana Style Creole Cakes ($15.95) and the Harmony Trio ($16.95).

Desserts: We were not offered dessert and didn't see it on the menu. We did not think to ask, either. The restaurant’s website says it is known for its homemade desserts that include cheesecake and chocolate and coconut cream pies.

Service: The girl who greeted and seated us was very friendly. It was "beach party night," which resulted in some unfortunate outfit choices for a couple of the older waitresses, not that I'm one to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't wear, but these women were inappropriately dressed for the dinner hour.

Our waitress was young enough to pull off her fake coconut bra and bare-midriff outfit, but she was completely devoid of any discernible personality. She did not smile, laugh, frown or shift expression in any way in the hour we had to interact with her. When we asked her a question about the wine, she said she didn't know anything about wine. When we asked her a question about an item on the menu, she took the menu from us and said, "What does it say here, because I don't know anything else about it."

I half-expected an apology or explanation from the kitchen after my spoiled chimichanga was returned, but none was forthcoming.

Conclusion: I was surprised to have such a negative experience at the Harmony Inn because I had heard good things about it, but then I realized that I've never actually heard anything about the food or service, just that it's beautiful, and that's true.

I was also surprised that it wasn't busier on a Saturday night. I'm wondering if it's because the food is just average to below average for the prices. Rather than a beach party night, perhaps a menu makeover might fill it up.

Having said that, my husband and I agreed that we had approached this whole dining experience with greater expectations than the restaurant is able to fulfill. We thought that, since it was in an old mansion, it would be more upscale so we opted for entrees. In the future, I would take a more casual approach and stick with appetizers and sandwiches and beer and the happy patio folks and the architectural eye candy. I think that would be a fun outing.

Cost: $ to $$

Address: 230 Mercer Street, Harmony. Phone is 724-452-5124

Website: http://www.historicharmonyinn.com/


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