I must confess that I have never had the pleasure to enjoy an "Asian Breakfast," despite the fact that I did a few tours in the Far East during my Navy days, back in the 1970's. While I was on liberty, it seems the subject of breakfast never came to fruition, as I seemed to prefer the "I&I" routine favored by the majority 20-something, single sailors. Friday, September 18, 2009, it was David's turn to pick our breakfast venue, and he chose Harry's Café, which has become very popular in the Sacramento, CA metro area as a breakfast restaurant.
Photo: Harry's Café offers outside dining, along a tree-shaded Sacramento street. Sacramento is noted for its extensive urban forest, and 16th Street confirms to this moniker.
Harry's Café is as unique of a restaurant as it gets, as it's a one-of-a-kind sort of place; in fact it's so unique that I've never seen anything like it, nor for that matter, I've never even imagined a restaurant such as Harry's could exist on the face of the planet, not to mention occupy a niche in midtown Sacramento. It's owned and operated by a husband and wife team, Harry and Lynn Luong, and staffed by several long-time employees. It's interesting to note that Harry and his wife emigrated to the U.S. from Viet Nam, after the fall of Saigon, back in the 1970's after the Viet Nam war. They arrived on U.S. soil virtually penniless, but since they're can-do people, they've worked hard and now they're extremely successful restaurant entrepreneurs. They're definitely my kind of people!
Harry's Café is located in midtown Sacramento, near the corner of 16th and "U" Streets, along a shady street in an area of stately Victorian homes, mixed with small businesses. The restaurant fits in perfectly with the neighborhood, and if you're in love with the many charming neighborhoods to be found in Sacramento, you'll fit right in at Harry's. Also, Harry's is as safe as it gets, as we noticed several police vehicles, both marked and undercover, parked nearby. Later, as we ventured inside the restaurant, we noticed a gathering of Sacramento police officers enjoying breakfast. If cops frequent a restaurant, you know it has to offer fine cuisine, as police officer seem to have a keen sense of value, fine cuisine, and good ol' neighborhood values.
Photo: Harry Luong, restaurant entrepreneur, owner, waiter, and chief operator of Harry's Café, and an all-around good buy.
Since David and I had off days from work, we showed up early, before the others arrived, and decided that we'd attempt to find a table for the five of us inside the restaurant. Wrong! As you walk inside Harry's you'll notice the stand-up counter and the folks busy at work, and behind the counter, you can look into the spotless kitchen. To your right are a mixture of tables, and there are only three tables that include seats for four, as the rest seat of the tables only seat two. I'd estimate that the dining room measures about 12 by 24 feet, and it could maybe squeeze in a couple dozen folks, assuming that everybody is friendly and everyone has showered and applied their deodorant. On this late summer Friday morning, at 0800, practically every table inside was occupied, so David and I decided to dine outside, on the sidewalk, in front of the restaurant, as that seemed like the only place to accommodate the five of us. Not a bad idea, as there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was about 70 degrees, which made the weather perfect to enjoy outdoor dining.
Photo: This is the view that you get of the walk-in counter, and the kitchen in the background, as you open the front door to Harry's Café.
Harry's Café isn't just open for breakfast and lunch, as they're open from 0600 to 2100, six days a week, which makes for long days for Harry and his staff. After we were seated, Harry placed menus on our table and asked us what we wanted to drink - coffee! - and brought two gigantic mugs of piping hot coffee to our table.
Harry's Café specializes in Vietnamese and Chinese food, but their menu includes a fantastic selection of good ol' American "comfort" food. The locals have a theory about Harry Luong's cooking: If he has it on the menu, it will be cooked to perfection. If you can't find what you desire on the menu, just ask, and Harry will create your request from scratch to match your description. If you can say it, Harry can create it! No hassle, friendly service, and absolutely no problem... No, I didn't make that up... it's an urban legend. We noted that Harry's breakfast menu features two pages of good ol' American classics - chicken fried steak, pancakes, omelets, egg combinations, you name it - but on the back of the menu is a separate section titled "Asian Breakfast." We homed in on that section, as we were in the mood for something, well... Asian... and David cheerfully pointed out to me that the "Asian Breakfast" section of the menu was the reason that we were holding today's meeting of the Sacramento Breakfast Club at Harry's Café. So many choices...
Photo: Looking from the back of the restaurant to the front door, with the walk-up counter to the right of the photo, you can see that inside dining is somewhat limited in space.
Soon the others arrived, more cups of coffee were placed on our table, and the task of choosing what to order began. David had already made up his mind - chicken fried steak - which is his favorite. We were pleasantly surprised to notice that Harry's had a new twist on David's favorite, as instead of potatoes, the chicken fried steak breakfast included steamed rice, and the steak was cooked in a batter that appeared to be a close cousin of tempura. When in Rome, do as the Romans do... errr.... when in Ho Chi Min City, do as the Vietnamese do, so all of ordered from the Asian Breakfast menu, with the sort-of exception of Brad, as he chose a fried steak/waffle concoction that offered plenty of gravy, for a very unique breakfast experience. Myself, I chose #41 from the Asian Breakfast menu, which included fried rice, optional bean sprouts, optional Chinese sausage, with two fried eggs perched on top of the fried rice.
Photo: Harry Luong delivers my breakfast of fried rice, Chinese sausage and egg to the table, while Brad looks on, eagerly anticipating the arrival of his dinner.
Photo: Harry delivers Brad's waffle/steak combination breakfast, as wife Lynn is about to deliver David's chicken fried steak to him, as I savor the moment and capture it with the aid of my digital camera. The photo also captures the character of the bucolic neighborhood.
As our orders were being prepared, both Harry and Lynn came to our table to refill our coffee mugs, inquire if we needed anything, and to welcome is to their restaurant. The locals say that Harry has an uncanny ability to remember faces, and connect them with names, and it's said the second time you visit the restaurant, that you're a regular. Harry's Café is not corporate America, and Harry and Lynn epitomize the face of American entrepreneurial spirit, and they run a lively, friendly operation, and they treat each of their guests as family. Wow! Such a change from waiting at the counter at some fast food joint, waiting for a dubious, lukewarm breakfast sandwich.
Gasp! Well, that's what happened when Harry and Lynn brought the breakfasts to our table, as we'd never seen anything like the breakfasts we were served at Harry's. With the exception of Brad's waffle/steak concoction, the dominant theme in our breakfasts were rice, with a capital "R!" No problem, rice is good, it's a staple of much of the world, and it's a change from potatoes, not that I need a change from potatoes, as I eat a form of potatoes with practically every meal. My number 41 breakfast consisted of gigantic plate, embedded with classic, Chinese rice, complete with bean sprouts (optional on the menu) and peas... have I ever had peas for breakfast before? ... with pieces of Chinese sausage chopped up in the rice. Two eggs, fried over easy, as per my request, topped the rice, and the whole affair was garnished with chopped green onions, which made for a unique dish, and an unforgettable presentation.
Photo: Asian breakfast anyone? Well, here it is, my breakfast served in all of its glory. Check this out: Chinese style fried rice, bean sprouts, bits of Chinese sausage, topped with a couple of eggs, fried over easy, just the way that I like 'em, and garnished with slices of green onions. Awesome!
Next... dig in... admire... dig in... enjoy... admire... more coffee... enjoy. The food is simply delicious, and the service is friendly, efficient, and has the "just right" balance between attentiveness and distance, which is difficult benchmark for a restaurant to achieve, but Harry and Lynn seem to have achieved that elusive goal. All that we've heard about the friendly service at Harry's Café is true, as we truly felt like we were part of a large, extended family.
The City of Sacramento tends to be a bit draconian when it comes to parking, as the curbs in the vicinity of Harry's are painted green, which only allows for a ticket-free parking window of 15 minutes, and the non-painted curbs only allow an hour parking. As we were enjoying our meal, a couple of diners emerged from the restaurant and made their way toward a couple of sedans that had been parked in the green zone, in front of the restaurant, for well over an hour. We'd been discussing why the City of Sacramento, in the never-ending quest for extra revenue hadn't ticketed these cars, which were parked well past the posted limit. Long story short, we noticed as the drivers entered their vehicles that each of them had strapped to their belts Glock .40's - undercover cops - so we had to good happily razz the guys about their parking perks. The cops razzed us back, telling us that parking was the sole remaining perk that they enjoyed, in this time of lean budgets, staff cutbacks, and general economic uncertainty.
Photo: Today's club members, from left to right: David DeMario, Brad Holther, Eric Rench, your author, photographer, and web editor, Dan MacLeod, and Matt Donnelly.
So what does the Sacramento Breakfast Club think about Harry's Café? Exotic. Different. Delicious. Fantastic! Combine delicious ethnic cuisine, friendly service, wonderful people, reasonable prices, and... did I mention? Huge portions! You won't leave Harry's hungry, and you can forget about lunch, as a breakfast at Harry's will keep you satisfied until dinner, and your dinner will probably will be light, at best. Harry's Café is the sort of restaurant that our club loves, and we'll be sure to pay them a visit again. Highly recommended by the Sacramento Breakfast Club!
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