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Johnny Harris celebrates 87 years
A view of the classic old-school ballroom

Venerable Johnny Harris is jubilantly celebrating its 87th birthday.

That has got to be something of a record in a business typically measured in a handful of years. It’s an industry where remaining relevant is as challenging as sustaining consistency over nearly nine decades.

The celebrity autographed menus on the walls are a testament to the restaurant’s drawing power in the good old days. In many ways, it still possesses that original charm; shades of exclusivity and elegance linger. But today’s heirs to this stalwart landmark aren’t resting on their laurels.

The menu is typically known for barbecue – ribs, pulled pork and chicken. The restaurant’s namesake sauce has a cult–like following. But, man apparently can no longer live by barbecue alone.

As part of its celebration, the Johnny Harris team rolled out a series of “Chef Creations” – dishes that remain true to the region’s culinary diversity, but also have a strong foothold in the modern kitchen.

I recently tried Pork Rustica, which pays homage to a trio of flavors that celebrate Southern cuisine: pork, collard greens and white beans. The collards and beans (Northern beans to be precise) create a tasty, nicely seasoned and well textured side dish that is hearty enough to stand alone. Tender medallions of pork tenderloin are layered across the side dish and topped with the restaurant’s smoky pecan barbecue sauce.

As much as I like Johnny Harris’ sauces, it was bit overwhelming for the side dish. No problem: I deconstructed the meat and sauce to the side and had a perfectly delicious experience.

The Mediterranean Shrimp appetizer – fresh shrimp tossed with sauteed diced tomatoes and topped with Feta cheese was a winner. It was the perfect topping for an ample supply of toasted french bread slices and just the right size to share.

Gumbo Shrimp with Pepper Jack Cheese Grits is also a crowd pleaser. Large shrimp are sauteed with onions, red and green bell peppers, diced tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs to create a piping hot topper for a creamy bed of spicy Pepper Jack cheese laced grits with fried okra. Better keep the sweet tea flowing for that dish!

Several other specials fill that menu, in addition to the restaurant’s staple menu of steaks, chicken, fish and, of course, smoked barbecue. Wednesday night is live Maine lobster and half price bottle of wine night. Thursday night sees reduced prices on the steak menu. Kids under 10 eat for $1.99 on Tuesday nights.

I love the dome–shaped dining room and a more causal setting is available in the so–called “kitchen” seating area. I’ve been a long time fan of the warm, inviting bar and its martini specials – and I’m pacing myself in order to return for a piece of housemade coconut cream pie.

1651 E. Victory Dr./354–7810

Open at 11:30 a.m. Every day. Close 9:30 p.m. Mon–Thu; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Sat and 3 p.m. Sun.