It took us a while to put our finger on what made Harry’s Cafe in Lakeville different from the multitudes of sports bars and casual eateries out there. But once we figured it out, we were impressed: We were able to sit at a table in a crowded restaurant at happy hour and carry on a conversation without shouting or leaning in mouth-to-ear. For all the restaurants and brewpubs that think having deafening acoustics means creating community and excitement, guess what — people were having a fine time at Harry’s without endangering their hearing. We’ll credit the acoustic ceiling tiles and the TVs with volumes off or very low. But whatever caused it, it was more than pleasant — it was relaxing, and encouraged us to linger for another beer. Isn’t that what a restaurant should be like?
Harry’s is an anomaly among suburban sports bars in that it focuses on making as much from scratch as possible — including an impressive list of salad dressings (only the fat-free versions are commercial) — and getting its meats and breads from local providers. Burgers are ground in house, brisket slow cooked in the kitchen, sauerkraut seasoned on site. Also? Homemade ice cream. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The kitchen’s output is ambitious for this type of venue, if a bit hit-or-miss. A side salad ($3) arrived with the housemade dressing — a delightful, mouth-puckeringly vinegary red-wine vinaigrette — on the side, but the grape tomatoes on top were ice-cold, rubbery, and tasteless. The slow-roasted beef-brisket dip sandwich ($13) had wonderfully tender, thinly sliced beef with gooey, melted Swiss and a sizable bowl of hearty, rich jus to go with it, but it was served on a hoagie bun so soft and light that it collapsed under the weight of the beef and practically dissolved in the jus. That beef and jus just begged for a sturdier bread choice, like a baguette.
The menu refers to the Reuben sandwich ($12) as “Best in the Midwest.” That’s debatable, but in any case, Harry’s puts out a pretty darn good version. The corned brisket was also tender — you could probably slice it with a spoon if you had to — and had a zippy, briny taste. The sauerkraut was admirably tangy. The housemade Thousand Island dressing was not as sweet as commercial versions can be, but still acted as a calming foil against the pungent kraut. And the marble rye bread was grilled perfectly, giving plenty of crunch before the bite reached the tender interior.
The teenager at our table desperately wanted to try the chocolate lava cake ($7), even though the rest of the party had misgivings about that idea, given its tiredness as a restaurant dessert. It turned out to be a “worst of / best of” dish — the cake itself was almost flavorless, a crime against anything with chocolate in the name. But it was served with our choice of Harry’s ice cream. We chose the Almond Joy flavor, and what a scoop of ice cream it was. Rich, creamy chocolate ice cream with coconut and almonds — this is what the Almond Joy candy bar only wishes it could be.
So if you’re driving south on I-35 and need a bite to eat around Lakeville, know that there are some good options at Harry’s, especially if you try the Reuben and the ice cream. And enjoy the calm environment.
Sports bar in Lakeville
20709 Keokuk Ave
Lakeville, MN 55044
HOURS: Mon-Tue 11 a.m.-9 p.m
Wed-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri 11 a.m.-midnight
Sat 9 a.m.-midnight
Sun 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
BAR: Full bar
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: Lunch $8-$16, dinner $9-$19