Written by: Jill Fink, Ocala Magazine Food Editor | Photography by: Chris Redd
As a long-time Marion County resident, I admire the hints of history when I visit Ocala’s Downtown Square. Upon entering Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, the words “Drug Co.” spelled out in the tiled doorstep reminds you that it used to be a pharmacy. Built, or rather, re-born after the famous “Thanksgiving Fire” of 1883, the Marion Building held a small opera house as well. New Orleans jazz plays inside now, and the décor echoes modern Southern charm with a playful touch of Mardi Gras.
If you’re missing Bourbon Street, Harry’s can help. You can dive into traditional Louisiana favorites like Jambalaya, Etouffeé, Gumbo, Shrimp Creole and Red Beans & Rice. Harry’s combines Cajun, Creole and Southern flavors and gives them their own twist to create not-so-traditional dishes like Grilled Chicken Baton Rouge, Bourbon Street Salmon and French Quarter Beef Tenderloin. They also craft Po’ Boys, Half-Pound Burgers, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Shrimp-n-Grits along with wings, seared Ahi tuna, oysters, and fish tacos. Harry’s also features a full bar including craft beers, a gluten-sensitive menu as well as a kid’s menu. Their outdoor seating area is even dog friendly.
Harry’s is a place where you can show up in a t-shirt and shorts or dress to impress. Either way, you’ll be greeted by friendly faces in a comfortable environment where you can enjoy a great meal. The restaurant operates like a true, family-owned business. Most of their staff has been there for years, which speaks volumes in the restaurant industry. General Manager Heather Hunter and her long-time kitchen manager, Darin Hayfer, are eager to accommodate you for a quick and casual lunch, a great meal with the family or even a decadent, romantic dinner.
Speaking of decadence, I dug into the towering appetizer called the Crab & Eggplant Napoleon. Warm layers of Panko-breaded eggplant and crab are stacked high then generously dressed with a Parmesan and basil cream sauce. This sauce also flavors the French Market Pasta, a playful combination of shrimp, chicken, bacon and spinach. It’s combined with Orecchiette pasta and delivered in a huge bowl.
A surprising amount of flavors and textures are expertly crafted into the Red Fish Alexandria entrée. Blackened Red Fish is generously topped with perfectly cooked shrimp and chunks of Cajun sausage that have been sautéed with fresh tomato. The Creole Style sauce paired wonderfully with this amazing dish.
I’m a Southerner, which means I’ve had my fair share of grits. However, I’ve never had grits quite like Harry’s prepares them in their Fried Grit Cake with Tasso Ham Cream Sauce. Thick wedges of prepared grits are magically transformed into a crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside triangle of delicious and slightly spicy Southern fare that everyone should try.
Dessert options on the menu are palate-pleasers like Chocolate Bread Pudding, Key Lime Pie, Bananas Foster and Oreo Beignets. Yes; I said Oreo Beignets… six of the famous cookies, dipped and deep fried to pillowy perfection, then topped with Harry’s White Chocolate Bourbon Sauce and a generous drizzle of chocolate syrup.
Harry’s famous Happy Hour runs from 2 to 7 daily; it features $3 draft beers, $4 house wine and premium cocktails, and $5 Signature cocktails. Also, their upcoming “Christmas in July” starts soon: purchase $100 in gift cards and receive a free $30 gift card to keep or share.
When you’re craving the taste of New Orleans, but can’t quite make the 600-mile drive, just head to Harry’s at 24 SE 1st Avenue. Call 352-840-0900 for more information and visit hookedonharrys.com for their diverse menu. When traveling around north central Florida, you can also try one of their other four locations in Tallahassee, St. Augustine, Gainesville or Lakeland.