It was early on a Tuesday night at Harry’s Pizzeria, and chef de cuisine Manny Sulbaran and I were sharing a two-seater outside, the atmosphere alive, buzzing with hungry customers. Ruby glasses rested atop our otherwise sparsely adorned wooden table, as Manny swirled a few ice cubes in his.
“What’s the inspiration behind these new specials, Manny?” I asked, referring to the daily dinner specials section that was added to the menu last month.
“They offer more than just variety to round out the menu,” he admitted. “It’s about bringing a bigger part of myself into Harry’s. We also wanted to offer something special for guests who may not want to eat pizza, especially those who visit us everyday. Sometimes they want something a little different.”
The specials highlight high quality proteins and local ingredients in American, Latin and Italian preparations, like Thursday’s Crispy Cuban-Style Mojo Pork, with seasonings like cumin, garlic and citrus meeting calabaza (pumpkin) in a savory hash. Other accompaniments take an Italian inspiration, like the orzo salad with Tuesday’s Braised Short Ribs and the giardiniera for Wednesday’s Crispy Lamb Shank.
Manny still considers it almost a miracle that there are five specials available per week for dinner, especially with the off-menu daytime specials verballed by servers. Beyond the busy wood oven station churning out Harry’s pies, Harry’s is up against some pretty challenging space constraints in the back kitchen and prep areas. To build the daily specials and deal with these issues, planning ahead is even more important, and lots of work is done in windows before the lunch and dinner rushes. Most of the specials are meant to be cooked low and slow by design, so when service rolls around they can be finished off in the wood-burning to order. On weekdays, you can spot Manny at Harry’s as early as 7:00 a.m., starting the 24-hour marinade for the boneless short ribs with paprika, ginger, chili, chipotle and coriander, or submerging pork in seasoned simmering water for four hours.
The exception, and of course there is always at least one, is Wood Oven Roasted Local Fish. Friday’s dinner special, which can feature anything from flounder to swordfish depending on what’s running, is skilleted with a stew of tomato, fennel, fingerling potatoes, onion, lemon, tomatoes and white wine, and finished in the wood-burning oven. Cooking in the wood-burning oven may be fast, but it’s no less tricky than a dish with a longer prep time. Since the surface of the oven can reach temperatures anywhere from 700 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit in a few seconds, it’s a matter of learning how to work it, understanding its quirks and hot spots (each oven has different ones,) and ultimately how that effects the cooking process.
Manny put his apron back on and switched gears, stepping back into the kitchen while I sat down at a table inside and ordered the day’s special, the short ribs, anxious for a taste of what I had heard Manny talk about.
The peperonata sauce packs big flavor with a combination of green, yellow and red peppers, onions and garlic. It rests atop the succulent short ribs, which are so juicy, so tender, that they hardly require the use of a knife. The orzo salad brightens the heartiness, with briny olives and capers, red onions and the balance of creamy great northern white beans, all dressed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. It was absolutely delicious. Looking around the packed pizzeria, I spotted several empty dinner special plates. It seems like many other guests agreed.
Before I left, I popped into the pizza station to say goodbye.
“How was it?” Manny asked.
“Incredible,” I answered, honestly and simply.
“Now you have to come back every day to try the other specials!” he exclaimed with a smile.
For a taste of this daily inspiration at Harry’s Pizzeria, Manny, I most certainly will.