Road Journals Blog—"I'm experimenting," Harry Horasanian said the first time I dined at his Reedley restaurant, Uncle Harry's Classic Meals. "Want to try a pluot smoothie?" Without waiting for an answer, he disappeared into the kitchen and, following the whir of a blender, emerged with smoothies for our entire table of six—on the house, of course.
Harry pulled up a chair and waited for our reactions. As we sipped, he talked about the Central Valley's link to fruit. "Pluots, they're new. Now, I grew up on a watermelon farm. We'd be out before dawn, but you had to step lightly or those cold melons would crack right open. If we were hungry, we'd stomp next to one—and there was breakfast!"
Harry’s father emigrated from Armenia to Argentina (a crooked ship captain dumped him there instead of taking him to the U.S.), but finally made it to California.
Seventy-seven year-old Harry has regaled me with his theories on astrology ("The moon moves the tides, so don't think for a second that those planets don't have an effect on us!") and tales of the historic building, formerly the Grand Hotel, where his restaurant has dished up Armenian food for more than 20 years. "They had a still up in the tower back during Prohibition," he once confided. Customers accessed a tunnel from an outhouse across the street, then slunk up a hidden stairway at the hotel to buy their hooch. The hotel lost its top story to a fire blamed on the bootleggers.
Once, I asked about the mismatched coffee cups dangling on hooks by the kitchen. "There's a group of about ten regulars who have their own keys," Harry told me. "They come let themselves in every morning and make coffee. Everybody's got their own cup."
I suppose I should mention that the food at Uncle Harry's is as tasty as the tales. A few years back, Diane the waitress advised me to try their shish kebab salad, not found on the menu. Your choice of bulgur wheat or pilaf is piled high with lettuce and a marinated dice of cucumber, tomatoes and onion, then topped with cubes of grilled meat (lamb is recommended). It's hearty and refreshing at the same time—the perfect antidote to the Central Valley summer heat. You really can't go wrong with any of the kebab dishes, though, and if you've got room, ask about the stuffed grape leaves or cabbage rolls.
"We're put here on earth to enjoy ourselves," Harry reminded me as he waved me out the door on my last visit. Couldn't agree more. That's why I come to your restaurant, Harry.
1201 G St., Reedley, (559) 638-5170.
Photography by Gayle Keck
This blog post was first published in December 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.