Historically, the Irish aren't known for their food, but The Harp isn't a typical Irish restaurant.
The Nottingham spot — originally The Twisted Harp but under new ownership since 2011 — combines the convivial atmosphere of an Irish pub with classic American food. Irish traditionalists can find dishes like shepherd's pie, but the menu emphasizes standbys like burgers, wings and steaks.
Scene & Decor Located in a large corner spot in a Belair Road shopping center, The Harp is divided into three zones. In the bar, dozens of TVs line the walls and the mile-long bar stays busy. At the back of the restaurant, a banquet room can seat more than 100 people (it was closed during our visit).
We settled into the third area: a dining room that was a surprisingly quiet space considering its proximity to the boisterous bar. Rich blue walls, numerous chandeliers and decorative harps were pretty, but more elegant than the casual restaurant demanded. Management might agree; the week after our visit, the room was painted a lighter color.
Appetizer Buffalo wings (10 for $9) are the quintessential American bar food; an Irish pub focusing on American fare should get them right and The Harp does.
The Harp has a sauce for every wing-lover: five levels of "hot," honey mustard, two types of barbecue, Cajun, jerk or Chesapeake-style. We played it safe with a wimpy order of the lowest level of heat, which was flavorful but packed only a tiny punch.
Even without too much spice, the wings were a delight; the meat was tender and the skin was impressively crispy.
Entrees Most of The Harp's menu is dedicated to American items, many with an Irish twist. For some dishes, like the Irish beef sandwich ($11), the Gaelic influence was more in the name than anything else.
Still, the sandwich of beef, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, provolone, lettuce, tomato and creamy-spicy tiger sauce was a good one. The beef was tender — though a tad under seasoned — and the onions and mushrooms added sweet and earthy notes.
Homemade potato chips, crispy and warm, were a welcome side.
The Irish breakfast flatbread ($10) was a more noticeable homage to Irish cooking. Flatbreads are often flimsy and more suitable as appetizers than entrees. This one, however, was as hearty as any full meal.
A thin layer of spongy crust was completely obscured by bacon, sausage, melted Irish cheddar, two eggs (we ordered ours over-easy) and an amusingly large helping of chunky home fries.
The home fries and eggs needed a dash more salt and the use of maple sausage was a little odd; each bite of sausage reminded us of the McGriddle. But every element was cooked nicely and together they created a satisfying and tasty spin on the flatbread.
Drinks As a nod to the restaurant's name, we ordered a pint of Harp ($3), the easy drinking Irish lager; it paired well with everything.
A glass of Barefoot pinot grigio ($5.99) was equally serviceable; it was cold enough to wash down the wings and crisp enough to complement the flatbread.
Dessert The Harp's desserts are made by local company Yia Yia's Bakery; they all looked lovely. The hot blondie ($5.25) offered no surprises, but the warm cookie bar topped with ice cream was a sweet and happy end to the meal.
Service As soon as we sat down, a friendly waitress introduced herself and a young man training with her for the evening. With the two of them tag teaming our table, service was spot on for most of the meal. Until we were ready for the check.
Though our wait for the check was not terribly long — about five minutes — it was in sharp contrast to the efficient service we'd received earlier.
During the wait, we noticed that many other tables received baskets of crackers and spreadable cheese with their drinks — an old-school dining touch we love. We weren't sure if we needed to order the crackers, but we wished we known about them at the beginning of the meal.
But even without crackers, we went home satisfied. The Harp strikes a happy balance, marrying the friendliness of a classic Irish pub and the food of a tried-and-true American restaurant. It's a winning combination.
Back story: Originally called The Twisted Harp, The Harp changed its name when it came under new ownership in 2011. The concept - American with Irish flair - comes to life with a mix of old Irish standbys and approachable American favorites prepared with the occasional Irish twist.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The traditional Irish breakfast gets flatbread treatment with sausage, bacon, eggs and an overly generous helping of potatoes piled on a springy bread base. The result is much heartier than most flatbreads and a fun way to eat breakfast for dinner.
Where: 8706 Belair Road, Nottingham
Contact: 410-529.4277; http://www.theharprestaurant.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily; dining room is open until 10 p.m. and limited menu is available in the bar until 1 a.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Tasty takes on Irish-flecked American food with pleasant, mostly efficient service.