Though gastropubs may be trendy, a place where creative food, fun drinks and a social atmosphere intersect will never go out of style. So when it comes to anchoring the burgeoning Harbor Point, this eating-and-drinking hybrid—a pub with an emphasis on high-quality food—seems a fitting neighbor. The fact that top New York talent Stephen Lewandowski, formerly the executive chef of Tribeca Grill, is chef and owner certainly adds to the attraction.
Harlan Social makes it easy for guests to relax and feel at home. Outside there’s ample free parking (yes, it’s next to Fairway) and café tables; inside, a range of seating in the bar, the dining room and counter tables overlooking the open kitchen for a touch of theater with your meal.
The menu features big variety too, with choices including small plates, a mozzarella bar (showcasing cheese prepared daily on the premises), charcuterie and international cheeses as well as salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes and mains. The lineup reflects the chef’s travels and a melting pot of cuisines, a place where Asian-influenced Gulf Shrimp Bahn Mi and Korean Style Fried Chicken live happily next to German classics like smoked bratwurst and Bavarian soft pretzel. This mélange comes together in low-key fashion, with Kraft paper menus, folded and wrapped neatly around blue and white dishtowel napkins.
Industrial-chic décor suits the restaurant, housed on the historic site of the former Yale Towne lock factory. The whole space feels like a big loft, taller than it is wide, with big wire basket chandeliers and glass pendants hanging from the ceiling, and metal bar stools below. On a recent Saturday night, we were first seated in the middle of the dining room, then moved to a circular leather banquette at our request; very quickly each section of the restaurant and bar filled, and if we had arrived later than our early-bird slot of 6:30, this move wouldn’t have been possible. Adding to our welcome was a super-friendly and knowledgeable waiter, who delivered some of the best service we’ve had in a long time.
Industrial chic décor, a nod to the site’s Yale & Towne roots, defines the bar and dining room, where you can enjoy the scene while tasting dishes prepared with seasonal and local ingredients.
He explained that sharing is what it’s all about and directed us toward some small plates: the house-made potato chips and the rock shrimp tempura. As expected, the chips tend toward the indulgent end of the spectrum, still a bit crispy under a blanket of melted blue cheese and topped with scallions and a healthy sprinkling of bacon pieces. (Brit-born gastropubs first launched in New York with the West Village’s pork-showcasing hot spot The Spotted Pig, and Harlan Social follows suit with plenty of pig on the menu.) A lighter starter, the shrimp tempura came out piping hot in a slightly sweet coconut broth on top of peppery arugula; I would definitely order it again.
With our appetizers, we investigated the drinks menu. There are more than fifty types of beer available, but we had to sample the blonde pale ale from the recently opened Half Full Brewery, also in Harbor Point. It had enough interest to appeal to our beer enthusiast, but it’s also light and smooth enough that the rest of us liked it too. Wine is no small part of the equation, with the dining room divided by a wall of racks with a library-like ladder for reaching the uppermost bottles. This forecasts the extensive wine list that includes pricey bottles from the owner’s private cabinet, but there are reasonable and thoughtful by-the-glass options too. Clever house cocktails include the Buffalo Brown Derby (with bourbon, grapefruit and honey syrup), a Drunken Palmer (a sweet tea vodka twist on the Arnold Palmer) and a Pimm’s Cup made with ginger beer. Like much of Lewandowski’s food, the drinks riff on what’s familiar but have some element of surprise.
For our mains, we ordered the braised beef short ribs, a must-try per our waiter. The beef tastes as though it’s been braising for eons; the melt-in-your-mouth meat is paired with a luscious parmesan potato purée, carrots and cooked plums, a burst of sweet fruit—comfort food at its finest. We also enjoyed the tender sautéed swordfish in a red Romesco sauce, with peas and speck. The Harlan Burger is exceptional: fat and juicy, topped with a cheddar-ale sauce and an onion relish made in bacon fat (yes, more bacon!). When split four ways, it was slightly less guilt-inducing. We also tried a trenette pasta (similar to linguini) with gulf shrimp, tossed in a light herb pesto and a pleasing array of vegetables—peas, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes and green beans—but the mild flavor was bland compared to other dishes.
Fortunately, portions here are just right, not huge, which led us to desserts, the bittersweet chocolate bar and a roasted plum tart. Chocoholics will appreciate this moderately sized bar, a dark glaze over chocolate mousse and praline crunch with a cookie-like bottom and whipped cream on top. For me, the rich almond flavor of the tart—almost like eating marzipan—was too intense and a bit heavier than I expected, but others at the table liked it.
Among the many positive notes here—the lively scene, the very good food, our unusually helpful waiter—it strikes me that I could keep coming back and enjoy a wholly different meal every time. Meyer lemon-cured olives, a buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and a glass of Barbera d’Asti. Or harissa- steamed clams, a pork belly Reuben and a Goose Island IPA. It’s that feeling that the possibilities are endless and, as the new Stamford brewery’s name suggests, that your glass really is half full.
121 Towne Street
Tue.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.; 5:30–11 p.m.
Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m.–4 p.m.; 5–11 p.m.