By Tami Vigness
Perfection. A goal many strive for, yet few achieve. But Hal Gershman, owner of the new and highly anticipated, locally owned restaurant, Harry’s Steakhouse, may have achieved just that.
This is no ordinary steakhouse. Especially for a modest-sized city like Grand Forks. From the first glimpse of the restaurant through the smokey-glassed front door, anyone can see they are about to step into someplace extraordinary. With a nod to the timeless era of 1940s design, you can almost imagine seeing Clark Gable enjoying an Old Fashioned at the bar or Katharine Hepburn dining in a corner booth. “Seeing the looks on people’s faces when they enter the restaurant for the first time is one of the best parts of the day,” according to General Manager, Matt Walkowiak.
It’s a place unlike any other in Grand Forks. It’s impressive, but not pretentious. Moody, but welcoming. Grand, but not over-the-top. Meticulous attention was paid to virtually every detail throughout the restaurant. Simple, yet thoughtful gestures are found everywhere. Purse hooks are mounted under the polished walnut bar. The tufted booths, armchairs, and riveted barstools, upholstered in richly toned genuine leather, are generous and comfortable enough to make you want to stay awhile. Soft, warm lighting comes from fixtures appropriate to the rest of the steakhouse’s 1940s Art Deco design with globe chandeliers and table lamps. Rather than overhead ceiling lights, gold-toned sconces are placed on either side of the mirrors in the bathrooms, creating a more flattering, less harsh reflection. Crisp, white linens adorn each table, and the silver and crystal are hand-polished before they are ever placed. There are different glasses for sparkling or still water, coffee and espresso cups are kept in a warmer, and specific crystal Riedel wine glasses are used according to the type of wine a customer has ordered, allowing the wine to properly aerate. More expensive wines are first poured into a crystal decanter to breathe, making the aroma and flavor more vibrant upon serving. All wine is stored in temperature-controlled wine refrigerators ensuring that each glass or bottle is served at the ideal temperature.
Special consideration was also paid to the acoustics throughout the steakhouse. Rather than the exposed pipes and ductwork commonly found in many newer restaurants, Harry’s ceilings are fully finished with crown molding and acoustic tiles with thousands of tiny holes to help absorb sound. There are fifty-eight speakers throughout the restaurant that effectively distribute subtle music so no one area is louder than another. Even the underside of each table is affixed with acoustic tile so extraneous noise is muffled.
The vision for the restaurant stems from Hal’s love of classic design and timeless elegance. Every aspect of the construction and every element of the interior design was reviewed and approved by Hal. The only exception are the glasses used for sparkling water. “I ordered those all by myself,” Matt joked. Hal’s wife, Kathy Gershman, has a keen eye for design and her influence can be found throughout the space as well. In fact, the custom-made spindles separating the bar from the dining room were installed with her vision in mind. “None of us could see it, but Kathy said, ‘just trust me,’ and so we did,” Hal said. The spindles are gorgeously carved from rich mahogany and vary in shape, design, and sequence creating a visually stunning yet functional division between the two spaces.
Every Businessperson Should Act Like a Consumer
The attention to detail does not stop at the aesthetics. When it comes to the quality of the food and the service, there has been no exception.
As part of and research and development trip to New York City, Hal and Matt spent a week dining at New York’s finest steakhouses, taking copious notes about what they liked and didn’t like about the food, presentation, service, and atmosphere. From silverware and plates to the server attire and overall restaurant ambience, no detail went unnoticed.
According to Hal, “Every businessperson should act like a consumer.” This is a mantra he firmly believes in, and it is reflected in the way he conducts his restaurant operations. What is it that the consumer wants? A great ambience? Yes. Unintrusive service? Definitely. Delicious food and drinks? Absolutely. A memorable night out? Without a doubt.
With these things in mind, the staff at Harry’s Steakhouse take great care and pride in their work. Servers spent two weeks tasting, training, and role-playing prior to the opening of the restaurant, Matt explained. They know how to read a table, open a bottle of wine table-side with ease, offer menu recommendations and explain food preparation, suggest wine pairings, anticipate a customer’s needs and nearly anything else that helps make their experience unforgettable.
The Perfect Product
Though many factors make up a great restaurant experience, the food is undoubtedly the most important. The steaks are cut to specifications and aged at least 21 days resulting in improved texture and flavor. The beef is carefully sourced and chosen from the top 2% of humanely raised Hereford cattle from ranches in the Midwest – a region sometimes referred to as the “Napa Valley of Beef”. The kitchen in Harry’s Steakhouse is a chef’s dream and features two state-of-the-art broilers, giving each steak the perfect char.
After attending a culinary arts school in Colorado, Head Chef Lane Leech has both worked in and managed a variety of kitchens. While living in Colorado, she was a confectionary chef at a chocolate factory, as well as a chef at one of Colorado Springs’ most legendary fine dining restaurants. To Harry’s Steakhouse, she brings a vast knowledge of the art of cooking, preparation techniques, recipe ideas, and management skills.
Though the menu was primarily developed by Hal and Matt, Chef Lane and her team are the creative forces behind the delicious recipes that are typical steakhouse fare, but with a flare that sets them apart. “You eat with your eyes first” is a well-known adage in the culinary world. Often presentation is equally as important as taste. At Harry’s, each dish is in a league of its own. Side dishes are large, plated separately, and perfect for sharing with the table. A rich hollandaise sauce complements the asparagus, crispy pancetta adds a new layer of taste and texture to the creamed corn, the Brussels sprouts have been taken up a notch with the addition of dried cherries, bleu cheese and balsamic. And you can’t forget about the classic crowd favorite – a giant portion of perfectly crispy, golden hashbrowns. While steaks are the highlight of the menu, there are a variety of other options to choose from. Alternatives include seafood choices like fresh salmon and walleye, a pork chop, chicken marsala, traditional spaghetti and marinara featuring hand-rolled sausage and beef meatballs, and even a burger. Thoughtful meatless entrée items are expected to be offered as well. The Harry’s menu will continue to evolve as the creative culinary team comes up with new ideas, tests recipes, and brings their own unique talents to the kitchen. Like the steaks, other ingredients and menu items are thoughtfully sourced, and many come from local farms and businesses.
Each recipe has been tested and tweaked until the results were exactly right and complemented the main course perfectly. “We probably tried five different types of onions and changed the batter recipe multiple times until we found the perfect combination for our house-made onion rings,” Matt said.
Although Harry’s is an upscale restaurant, it was very important to Hal that it was also inclusive and had something for everyone. While the menu offers high-end cuts of steak like a porterhouse and bone-in ribeye, it also offers more budget-friendly options such as a sirloin and prime rib. “Our prices are based on the perfect product,” Hal explained. Preparing and serving a dish that exceeds what the customer wants and expects is a fundamental element in the Harry’s Steakhouse business philosophy. Unlike an item you can simply return to the store because of faulty or subpar manufacturing, a meal is something much more personal. To this point, from the moment you are greeted by the host to that last bite of rich New York cheesecake, the goal of everyone at Harry’s is to create a perfect and memorable dining experience.
A Gift to Grand Forks
In its brief life thus far, Harry’s Steakhouse has welcomed many people through its doors. It has quickly become the kind of place where people will entertain clients, out-of-town guests, government officials, and even prospective employees. With a hint of nostalgia, an abundance of class, and service that rivals the top restaurants in major metropolitan locations, Hal’s dream of bringing a world-class steakhouse to Grand Forks has come to fruition. Though the idea of the steakhouse has been years in the making, the renovations extensive, and the decisions overwhelming at times, it’s evident that this labor of love has been worth the wait. In the humblest of voices, Hal said, “I’ve actually heard people say it’s a gift to Grand Forks. I never thought of it that way.” G
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From Issue 1, 2021
PHOTOS By Manstrom Photography