A funky take on an old-world pub at Harlow's in Peterborough
“So does this mean we’re going to have dinner in a bar, and I can’t drink?”
That was our still-Teenage Bottomless Pit’s reaction to my announcement that we were going to a place with “pub” in its name for dinner on a recent Sunday night.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what we were in for, but a glance at the website had told me Harlow’s Pub in downtown Peterborough would probably be much more than just a bar with food. And is it ever.
Harlow’s is a pub in the Old World sense — a Brit on holiday would feel right at home here. OK, he might be a bit curious about the decor, which is eclectic in the extreme, being sort of a mix between country-barn antique and ’60s “mod.”
And the food isn’t strictly “pub grub” in either the American sense or the British. In fact, Harlow’s website pretty much nails the description: “Peterborough’s only Hungarian, Irish, German, Italian, Mexican, Asian, English & Portuguese-inspired family friendly pub and restaurant.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
With a substantial vegetarian presence on the menu, we felt comfortable that TBP’s girlfriend wouldn’t have to make a special request to have the meat left out of a dish designed for a carnivore. Several items are vegetarian-only, and others can be prepared with or without meat and are priced both ways.
We started by sharing (well, sort of sharing) a few appetizers, including an order of guacamole ($8.95) and chips. The guac was fresh and brightly colored, but a little on the bland side — a squirt of lime, a spoonful of salsa or a little more seasoning would have done the trick. The tortilla chips were warm and crispy, and salty enough to compensate for the guacamole. We thought the serving (six ounces) was a bit small for the price, but it was enough to tide us over until the rest of the apps arrived.
While I and The Girlfriend continued to work on the guacamole and chips, The Dining Companion got a cup of Black Bean Soup (thick, almost like refried beans) with “the Works” (cheese, scallions, and a side of sour cream) added for $4.75 all told. The soup was good, but TDC thought it too could have used a touch of lime to brighten it up somewhat.
Meanwhile, having not eaten in at least the 45 minutes it took us to reach Peterborough, TBP started with a small garden salad ($4.99) with grilled chicken ($2.99), which kept him from starvation long enough for our entrees to be prepared.
Our entrees speak to the variety on the menu at Harlow’s. I ordered Bangers & Mash ($13.95) featuring two North Country Smokehouse sausages served with mashed potatoes, caramelized onions and demiglace, with the veggie du jour, in this case a sauteed mix of summer squashes, carrots, onions and broccoli.
The sausages were of the standard Italian link size, but of fine texture and mild, slightly smoky flavor. The accoutrements, particularly the onions and the sauce, put some bang in these slightly shy bangers.
TDC chose the nightly salmon special ($17.95), which was Blackened Cajun Salmon with a creamy dill sauce. The salmon was cooked quite well, but the seasoning, although good, was definitely not blackened cajun. The creamy dill sauce was a great and had the slightly acidic punch that the soup had been missing.
The Girlfriend chose the vegetarian version of The Mediterranean ($13.95), featuring penne pasta tossed with a delicious, aromatic mix of roasted tomatoes, capers, onions, garlic and Kalamata olives topped with a white wine lemon sauce and Parmesan. She loved it, and loved not having to make that special request to omit the meat.
TBP ordered Diablo Chicken ($15.95), a sliced, sauteed chicken breast with tomatoes and penne pasta served in a spicy Buffalo sauce and topped with cheddar and crumbled blue cheese. This was a variation on one of his all-time favorites, TDC’s Buffalo chicken mac & cheese, so it had to meet high expectations. The quickly cleaned plate seemed to suggest it passed the test.
There’s no posted dessert menu, and we weren’t sure what to expect, but our waitress listed three options, and recommended a homemade mocha mousse pie, made with a thick chocolate crumb crust, a rich, not-too-sweet mousse filling, and topped with caramel and whipped cream. The Girlfriend and I both ordered it; she didn’t finish hers, I shouldn’t have finished mine, but it was delicious, and far lighter than I had any right to expect it to be.
TDC ordered a lava cake which she indicated was quite good, and TBP a carrot cake that didn’t quite meet his lofty standards, mainly because of a frosting that he described as more whipped cream than cream cheese.
So did TBP’s concern about eating in a bar without drinking pan out? Not at all. Even if you’re still underage, there are plenty of reasons to like Harlow’s: the food is good, it’s casual, friendly, and reasonably priced. And most nights, there’s live music on the stage.
We’ve visited several restaurants in Peterborough in the past few years, and Harlow’s is now definitely one of our local favorites.