An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Mar 14, 2014
09:16 AMThe Connecticut Table
A Roadfood Favorite for Burgers, Harry's of Colchester, Opens for Season
The sign announcing that Harry's Place, a bastion of burgers and more, opens for the season today (March 14).
Cravings for classic roadside stand burgers and fries, not to mention hot dogs and more, can be satisfied once again in Eastern Connecticut starting today (March 14) as the must-try local haunt Harry’s Place in Colchester reopens for its 94th season.
The milkshakes, onion rings and fried seafood that have helped make the small white-washed shack a destination for “beach fare” enthusiasts from around the state will also be on the menu at the seasonal operation that has even drawn attention from The New York Times.
Harry’s Place has been shuttered since October, but owner John Garet is ready to get back to business. The restaurant has been a hive of activity this week with prep work, and Garet expected a flood of locals, who have grown up with the drive-in like he has, to be lining up Friday.
“I hear ‘I’ve been coming here my whole life ... sometimes twice a day,’” says Garet of the feedback from loyal customers. “We provide outside family dining. I think of it as high-end fast food. We sample everything and only pick the stuff we really love.” (Left, a burger and fries; photo by Michael Stern of Roadfood.com. Below, a hot dog in photo by Stern from the site.)
Some of those things that he and his customers love include the fresh whole clam bellies – a big seller – and the 30 different flavors of hand-dipped Hershey's ice cream they offer during the sweltering peak of summer. And of course the burgers, which continue to be a Harry's signature item.
" ... the hamburgers remain thick enough to be overwhelmingly juicy," says the Roadfood.com post on Harry's. "Hot dogs are cooked on the same grill, and they’re plump and tasty ones, especially satisfying when bedded atop some of Harry’s chili sauce."
“We make fast food to order with about 15 different toppings [for burgers and dogs],” says Garet.
The classic American eats at Harry's have been that way since the beginning, when Harry Schmuckler, the Harry behind the place, first opened the shack in 1920. Harry’s Place is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Schmuckler sold the restaurant in the 1930s to state legislator Ruby Cohen, who was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1943 and represented Colchester and surrounding towns for 30 years.
Supposedly Cohen is responsible for boosting business during his time as owner by “single-handedly” blocking the creation of Route 2, which would have (and now does) divert travelers between Hartford and New London away from the drive-in. Until the route was built in 1972, the main road between the two towns passed right by Harry’s. Backed up traffic caused hungry commuters to stop and eat.
“It’s totally true,” Garet assures.
His family took over the business in 1978, when Garet was just 11.
“I’ve been working here since I was 11. This is my 23rd year as a manager and 16th year as the head manager, so I’m 35 years in. In a few more years I figure maybe they’ll let me go,” he says with a laugh.
He jokes, but in truth, he loves working at Harry’s Place, the same way his employees do. Each season – from St. Patrick's Day to Halloween – he has between 70 and 80 applications from people looking for work. Many employees come back, just like the customers.
“The colder the winter is, the busier we are when we get that first break in the weather,” he says.
Considering the winter Connecticut has suffered this year, he’s hoping for a beautiful day and a big turn out on their opening weekend.